February 11, 2008
Smart has for some time been the buzz-word in energy circles. We should act energy-smart, we should have smart meters and smart grids. In the US we now hear several of the candidates for presidency claim that they want to support building of smart grids. In Europe the Commission has issued programmes for research on smart grids. But how smart can a grid really be and how will the grid show its’ smartness?
There seem to be at least three different perspectives of smartness that you want the grid to apply:
- Economic Use of resources
- Service improvement for utilities
- Technical upgrading of functions
No doubt new technology and technology in development can make networks (grids) work better than only lining up electrons in order to be delivered through the wires. But can all the wishes be fulfilled or will some have priority over the others?
Economic use of resources
No doubt this wish is the most dominant from decision-makers. In the US presidency campaign both Ms Clinton and Mr Obama have expressed their desire to foster establishment of smart grids to enable improved customer service in terms of prices, information and management, but also to allow distributed generation from renewable resources.
Service improvement for utilities
There has been much talk about smart meters and indeed some of the smartness they provide makes life easier for utilities, especially in meter reading and in billing. Today we have achieved smart metering but there it stops. Much of that has the same characteristics as when the first chips were put into cameras. It enabled them to print the date on the picture, but that was all. Nowadays it is different with cameras and we hope that smart meters will also develop new features.
For the system operators there are however more interesting options. They may not be very interested in the daily handling of business which after all primarily concern the seller and the buyer of the product, but they are certainly interested in keeping the transmission and distribution intact whatever comes. Self-healing and outage management is much more in the scope for them.
Combining the aspects?
Is it that when we say “smart grid” people hear different things and instead of moving towards the establishment of such we arrive to a congestion of issues that block each other?
Introduction of more computer intelligence in the system allows for new applications. But it must be remembered that it is not the computers that bring the smartness to the net, it is the way that smart people makes them work! In a testimony to the US congress it has been pointed out that there are barriers in terms of e.g. organisation of the market. So a political initiative might be needed to overcome some of the obstacles.
It is therefore strange to see that European politicians have been much more timid. There have been some calls for strengthening of power transmission lines as a means to reduce the risk for black-outs and to improve competition, but very little to advocate use of distributed resources or to improve demand response.
Reports and reading matters:
- EU Smartgrid Technology Platform
- US Energyfuture Coalition
- Smart Metering, South Dakota PUC
- Vision for a self-healing power grid