Smart Grid

With this post I’m experimenting a different longer format because the smart grid topic is very broad and complex.

According to ERGEG (European Regulators’ Group for Electricity and Gas) defining what is a “smart grid” is not easy, their attempt is probably one of the most exhaustive: (citation from E09-EQS-30-04, 10 December 2009) “Though elements of smartness also exist in many parts of existing grids, the difference between today’s grid and a smart grid of the future is mainly the grid’s capability to handle more complexity than today in an efficient and effective way. This increased complexity is due to, inter alia:

  • Massive implementation of distributed generation at LV and MV level including the need for an efficient regulatory treatment of license applications;
  • Implementation of large intermittent generation located geographically far away from the load centers;
  • Changes in customers’ behavior (i.e. an active demand side);
  • Reduction of losses (e.g. through appropriate distributed generation which is located close to areas with high consumption);
  • Increased use of self-healing technologies.

I just should add to the previous list that: a smart grid can combine an increasing amount of sensor data, distributed embedded processing and analytic intelligence with bidirectional and distributed generation, proactive actions and storage, in order to improve reliability and lower both economical and environmental costs, while extending coverage and availability (400 millions Indians still have no access to electricity, just 44% of rural households have access to it). All stakeholders of a smart grid n-way infrastructure, including householders and appliances constructors, can be directly involved in the real time trading of energy, balancing their needs, costs and investments.

According to the SMART 2020 report (by The Climate Group on behalf of the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), with independent analysis by McKinsey & Company):  ICT could drive efficiency across the economy and deliver emission savings of 15%-7.8GtCO2e – of global BAU emissions in 2020; Smart grids alone is the biggest and most accessible opportunities for achieving savings because it can contribute up to 2.03 GtCO2e in 2020, worth €79 billion. A detailed case on the effect of smart grid was done for India to prove that it’s a winning lever for mitigation of climate changes (electricity generation currently accounts for 57% of India’s total emissions) since: “Reducing T&D losses in India’s power sector by 30% is possible through better monitoring and management of electricity grids, first with smart meters and then by integrating more advanced ICTs into the so-called energy internet”. organization wrote that just the  optimization of the distribution grid “can reduce electric generation requirements and related carbon by 3 to 5% without impacting on, or requiring any change in, customer behavior. These benefits can be realized as on-going energy efficiency, at peak load or a combination thereof”.  The following figure from the SMART 2020 report shows the estimated global impact of Smart Grid on GHG.

Many smart grid system schemes have sprung up in recent years, ranging from a European effort centered on smart phones to Google’s PowerMeter in alliance with General Electric (its Advanced Distribution Infrastructure solution provides real-time distribution system information and allows utilities to control network assets from the operations center to the customer location). The U.S. economic stimulus package funded $4.5 billion towards implementing the Smart Grid provisions of the U.S. Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 which made the Smart Grid a policy of the United States.  US ARPA-E, a subset of the U.S. Department of Energy, is spending, under American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, over $300 million for more than 100 research projects aimed at improving energy efficiency, transmission, and storage. In Europe the Key Performance Indicators of the EUROPEAN INITIATIVE ON SMART CITIES  include within the Energy Networks activity “Establishment of smart grids coupled with smart building and equipment, RES electricity and smart meters. At least 20 pilot schemes by 2015“. An example of the resulting effort is the Amsterdam’s one: it that plans to invest 200 million Euro in a smart grid, particularly in the network mid-level. The Amsterdam effort involves for example:

  • 250 households testing new energy management systems in Haarlem, where Liander in cooperation with Plugwise, is providing smart plugs to enable consumers to make more informed decisions about their energy consumption.
  • JCDecaux and Ziut are introducing the GrauaLight Dimmer, an intelligent system to dim the lights in street furniture (e.g.  bus shelters, city light panels and billboards) to save up to 40% energy, while maintaining maximum visibility for outdoor advertising posters
  • The Transmission & Distribution Europe / Smart Grids Europe Congress was held in Amsterdam from 29 to 31 March 2010. The focus of the congress was on how to create an energy system that will be stable, sustainable and profitable, now and in the future, and on developments in the field of smart grids.

Distributed energy generation is only possible with intense management, regulation of demand and supply through ICT because distributed and variable renewable sources and hourly demands are core issues (think of spikes due to clouds in concentrated photovoltaic, variable wind speed, plug-in hybrid and electric car connected to recharge stations, smart appliances in home automation or the security risk in case of attempts to hacker the power grid).

The well known “Pecan Street Project“, since its launch in 2008, is working  to create, operate, and evaluate an “open platform Energy Internet” – a type of smart grid that allows two-way electricity and information flow, allowing for use, interpretation and change at every point on the system. This Pecan smart grid model is based on the Internet’s architecture: “Think of it as Energy 2.0”. Pecan project has representatives from: City of Austin, Austin Chamber of Commerce, Austin Energy, Austin Technology Incubator, Environmental Defense Fund, The University of Texas at Austin. The City of Austin has been designated as the project’s clean energy laboratory for designing and implementing: “an energy generation and management system that generates a power plant’s worth of power from clean sources within the city limits and delivers it over an advanced delivery system that allows for unprecedented customer energy management and conservation“.

The “smart grid” will integrate advanced functions into the nation’s electric grid to enhance reliability, efficiency, and security, and would also contribute to the climate change strategic goal of reducing carbon emissions. These advancements will be achieved by modernizing the electric grid with information-age technologies, such as microprocessors, communications, advanced computing, and information technologies. The Pecan project includes web and mobile applications to allow householders monitor near real time their energy usage data, renewable distributed generators and smart appliances and meters, data collection and analysis, water conservation, etc. Corporate partners include: Applied Materials, Cisco, Dell, Freescale, GE, GridPoint, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Oracle, Semantech.

Several global companies are leading in the smart grid race:

(disclaimer: I’m providing here some examples that are not exhaustive neither attempt to provide a score to the involved companies)

Accenture launched several initiatives related to smart grids, basing on its experience in the utility markets and ICT technology:

·         “Intelligent Network Data Enterprise” (INDE) that “enables utilities to manage, integrate and analyze real-time data generated by millions of disparate sources throughout a utility’s smart grid network.  Transforming the data into actionable and predictive insights allows a utility to take actions to increase operational performance“. INDE provides utilities with the blueprint, tools, processes, services, databases, analytics and visualization capabilities.  Its solution architecture was applied at Xcel Energy’s SmartGridCityTM, in Boulder, CO, US and it’s used as a blueprint for a large number of projects. INDE is based on three layers:

o   The software layer between “raw” data from the grid and the utility’s existing operations and enterprise IT systems, acting  like a central nervous system.

o   The integration platform unifying heterogeneous components (i.e. communications, smart meters, intelligent network components and sensors).  It aims at building an open, standards-based data acquisition, transport, event processing and storage architecture.

o   The visualization capabilities to better observe use analytics and manage intelligent device components.  A full energy service energy company need to manage an enormous, growing amount of data and information with proper meta-data and analytics solutions.

·         “The Accenture Intelligent City Network” that involves by invitation selected smart cities, like Boulder (CO, US) and Amsterdam (NL), and innovative utilities, like Xcel Energy and Alliander, to share information about their best practices in leveraging technologies like smart grids and new transformational approaches to the environmental issues.  The first objective is “Drive action to tackle smart grid challenge and reduce the implementation time through technology, operational effectiveness and behavioural change”

The IBM Smart planet strategic initiative has Smart Grid as a core component working on several nationwide efforts like: The island-nation of Malta that is building the world’s first national smart grid, which will also monitor the country’s water systems; China, that has embarked on a decade-long smart power grid program: the State Grid Corporation of China. The company is currently working on seven of the world’s ten largest automated meter management projects. Now utilities have access to an increasing amount of sensor data and digitized information (including for example weather data) that can be interconnected, so that information flows between them creating additional value. IBM states that the newly available information can be used for intelligent and informed decision making by predictive analytics IBM has also created the Green Sigma Coalition, with ABB, Cisco, Eaton, ESS, Honeywell, Johnson Controls, SAP, Schneider Electric, and Siemens. An ecosystem of partnership is needed to combine various skills and services to meld not only energy demand from HVAC, lighting and temperature control systems with security and other services, within buildings and over groups of buildings and factories.

Microsoft teamed up with several industry partners, like Puget Sound Energy, Sacramento Municipal Utility District , Seattle City Light, Xcel Energy, Itron Inc., Blue Line Innovations PowerCost Monitor, Ford and Landis+Gyr, to make easier for consumers to automatically access granular energy consumption data for electricity and gas, in order to support a smart grid effort. By Microsoft Hohm, a free Web-based beta application built on Azure (a cloud computing environment) householders can better understand their home energy usage, get recommendations to conserve energy and start saving by smarter decisions. Hohm uses advanced analytics, licensed from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Department of Energy, to give highly personalized energy saving recommendations, that are tailored based on specific household circumstances, including home attributes and use of appliances and systems. Users are invited to compare their energy usage with others in the same neighborhood, or across the country and share advices and results, leveraging social networking and “ask the expert” approach in building awareness.  An SDK allows Microsoft partners to integrate with the system, to facilitates communication between the utility company and their customers, and helps consumers keep track of home maintenance and improvement tasks. In the future utilities should be able to implement “demand side management” to reduce, as previously agreed with customers, the energy consumed by specific appliances during peak hours, for example switching off or setting thermostats of  air conditioning or postponing the start of washing machine.

The most known Google effort related to sustainability is probably Google Power Meter, done in partnership with General Electric and several other utilities and power meters builders. Google Power Meter helps citizens in monitoring their home electricity usage by Google Power Meter, a free on-line energy monitoring tool that helps users save energy and money. It uses energy information provided by utilities, smart meters and energy monitoring devices. Google claims that consumers using Power Meter can see in near real-time how much energy they are using: with simple behavioral changes they can save up to 15% of their electricity use, and even more with smart electricity pricing and investments in energy efficiency. Google has recently  opened up the PowerMeter’s API making much easier for home networking vendors to integrate their products.

CISCO is creating a Smart Grid Ecosystem  and a Smart Grid Technical Advisory Board to facilitate the adoption of IP based communications standards for smart grids that will benefit the energy industry as well as business and residential customers.

General Electric is focusing on smart grid, as a core component of its CEO, Jeffrey Immelt, who wanted to be on the forefront of the green revolution,  for example G.E. is opening a new smart grid technology center in Atlanta, Georgia, in partnership with the Georgia Institute of Technology, that shoud create 400 cleantech jobs over the next three years. It also presented the Wattstation, an electric vehicle charger that is smart-grid compatible and Nucleus, a communication and data storage device that provides consumers with secure information about their household electricity use and costs so they can make more informed choices.

G.E. has also a very strong communication efforts to a larger public on the Ecomagination site, using animation and augmented reality to make it more appealing and launching “the biggest quest for ideas in history: GE ecomagination Challenge: Powering the Grid,” an open innovation challenge that will give $200 million to smart grid ideas submitted through GE’s ecomagination website (a clever use of crowd sourcing). I also notice the post “Why Don’t Consumers Get The Smart Grid?” by David Leeds where he explain that: “To utilities, a smarter grid will lay the foundation for technologies that seemed outlandishly futuristic a few years ago: electric cars, cities that can insulate themselves from rolling blackouts, homes automatically tuning themselves to the weather and alternative energy that can compete economically with coal. But to consumers, the smart grid so far is an extra charge on their bill they don’t particularly like. Why don’t consumers seem to care about the smart grid? The answer in part lies in a lack of awareness. A recent poll conducted by General Electric found that 79 percent of Americans were unfamiliar with the term, but those that understood it generally supported its goals.” Also Mark Scott form Business Week warned one year ago that: “Yet despite the cost savings, consumer advocates still caution that not everyone will benefit from smart meters. Vulnerable groups, particularly the poor and elderly, may become victims to price spikes. And privacy concerns that utilities could use the data collected through smart meters without the permission of customers still dog many potential rollouts“. An answer to these concerns will probably be provided by a new organization created by an alliance of consumer electronics and technology companies (including G.E. and IBM), retailers, utility firms and consumer groups: the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative (SGCC).

An unusual approach has been taken by GroundedPower, a start-up founded by a small team of experts “who understand the psychological and behavioral processes that people use to interact with technology”. They are applying behavioral science principles and collaborative software design to the problem of consumer driven energy management and efficiency. Heterogeneous experts (i.e. utility management, energy policy, IP & wireless networking, web based and collaborative software development and behavioral/cognitive psychology) are working together to create a real-time, interactive, consumer-driven energy management platform that provides the tools required to engage, motivate and empower consumers to more effectively use and manage energy. It combines real-time energy monitoring with an integrated suite of consumer engagement and behavioral tools. Householders can compare and compete with peers or earn rewards in a social-networking type interface. This approach leverage active learning processes, social networking  and social gaming to keep customers coming back to learn more and take further actions to save energy and money.

It might be less obvious that not only energy (utilities), construction (home automation and remote energy monitoring) and ICT are involved with smart grids. For example transportation is depending on smart grid to support the development of an electricity grid for hybrid and electric vehicles. As a matter of fact the impact on the electricity grid of a growing number of plug-in vehicles may be disruptive if not properly planned and managed. The opposite is probably not true:  even if electric vehicles and distributed renewable generation fail in the market, the smart grid is still needed to manage expensive peak demand and provide improved power reliability and lower prices.

One of the transportation related company that is betting on the sustainability green revolution is Renault that writes: “Electric vehicles are in phase with current public issues. They are silent and, because they emit no CO2, NOx or particulate matter, they also respect the environment.” This result will be achieved by changing the market rules with a new vision that is specifically attractive in a smart city: “you will buy an electric vehicle, rent a battery and sign a contract to use recharge stations located in the street, near the office and in parking lots.” Electric cars will probably match with the car sharing approach, leveraging the role of ICT and smart grids for security, flexible cost and payment, reservation, location based services, planning. Electric car batteries and ultra capacitors can play also a strategic storage role, helping in managing demand peaks (charge batteries according to planned usage and lower night energy cost, but also sell energy during short peak time or avoid peak load when all people return home and plug-in their cars) in a bi-directional electricity grid, enabling a smarter energy trading extended  to end users (the integration will involve also home automation and smart appliances). Obviously this is not an easy problem, for this reason multiple alliances have been established for electric vehicle involving car makers like Renault-Nissan or utilities like RDF, RWE, Enel or A2A in Italy (where Enel is leading in EU with more than 32 millions smart meters that  have been already installed and managed for remote metering and hourly based pricing, compared with 38 million smart meter installed in U.S.), up to the revolutionary start-up “Better Place” (that has a partnership agreement also with Renault-Nissan). A newer version of Microsoft hohm should work in concert with Ford’s Focus would decide the best time to charge cars at lowest cost (such as late at night) and could eventually allow homeowners to tap their charged car batteries to help power home appliances and cut costs.

Better Place it’s a venture that aims “to reduce global dependency on oil distribution infrastructure through the creation of a market-based transportation infrastructure that supports electric vehicles“. Better Place will provide not only a battery rental model and optimized recharge stations, but also a quick service of battery switching stations and ICT services, to take care of optimized location and travel planning for battery recharge or replace (in only two minutes). The expensive lithium batteries are not bought by the users, they are rented and owned by Better Place that track them by GPS & GPRS. This high tech solution, combined with country based agreement,  such as in Denmark and Israel plus other 25 regions, will make electric cars more attractive not only for the prevailing short travels in city usage that are already compatible with battery capacity, but also for longer, even if less frequent, intercity travels. The approach is derived by the charging model of Cellular phone industry, where customers contract for minutes and often lease the phone. It also put in evidence the role of financial and infrastructure services in the building of smart grids and smart transportation because there is a strong need of combining economies of scale with reliability to make it feasible. I think it is enlightening what was Posted by Amit Nisenbaum, Head of Subsidiaries Enablement “The giants of Silicon Valley are typically of the information technology type, from Google to Intel, Facebook to Microsoft. Now that the cleantech industry is running alongside the IT industry as the high-growth place to be, we see human talent migrating from one industry to the other, and finding different practices when they get there.

In the long run I should guess that “Internet of things” (or M2M) may converge with “Smart Grid” in managing interconnected information, knowledge, sensors, actuators and energy to power them in a sustainable holistic global network.




One response to “Smart Grid

  1. Google and Microsoft have just jumped off the home energy management space. On June 24, Google announced that it was discontinuing its PowerMeter offering due to insufficient interest. In a few days, Microsoft followed by retiring its Microsoft Hohm service. Recently (August 10th) also CISCO decided to scrap its energy-management department. 😦

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