By now we are all familiar with the challenges faced by the construction and integration of a national smart grid. In addition to cost, any large-scale, interconnected energy system must overcome energy security and reliability issues, while also addressing the need to stabilize renewable energy contributions to the grid. And any system that will combine power generate from both the utility and its customers will have to utilize an advanced IT platform that can accommodate a complex informational architecture.
These challenges and their attendant solutions were discussed in great detail last month at the Santa Barbara Summit on Energy Efficiency. At the Summit, a panel discussion on the smart grid—entitled Tomorrow’s Grid–Prospects for a Smarter Energy Future—included presentations and commentary from a handful of well-versed professionals in the field, including Chris Knudson, Director, Technology Innovation Center, PG&E; Steve Hauser, VP Grid Integration, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL); and Paul De Martini, VP CTO Connected Energy Group, Cisco. The panelists offered a wide range of perspectives and prognostications—below are some highlights
According to Knudson, one of the biggest challenges facing our energy infrastructure is that, “We as a society are consuming energy at a much faster rate than we can produce it.”
Knudson pointed to both NERC reliability and GHG reduction as specific drivers of the new technology needed to make the smart grid a reality.
“If we can develop technology to shift load peak,” explained Knudson, “then we don't have to increase energy sources.”
Some challenges must still be overcome, including localization problems: Both solar and electric vehicles have mostly a local impact, and this “localized concentration” makes it difficult to spread out the benefits of renewable onsite power across the grid. But localized concentration can be overcome if we begin to look at the smart grid as a “System of Systems.” Knudson explained that by creating a smart grid composed of interdependent systems, a new, smarter grid will enable systems to communicate, “in a distributed way.”
Interconnecting closed-loop systems as part of a smart grid will make system stability a critical factor, warned Knudson. He added that as distributed resources (generation load) increase, “electric floss on the grid become more dynamic and complex.”
Another challenge will be system integration—with power plants and customers both contributing to the grid via isolated systems. Knudson asked, “how will we make all these different systems speak the same language?”
The answer: a scalable near-real-time IT. With IP networks and the layered architecture of common informational models system, a real-time IT system will be able to handle the complex power generation and load requirements of a distributed smart grid.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) mission is “to reduce oil use to less than 15% of current levels and CO2 emissions by less than 80% by 2050.” One way to meet that goal: building a “Smart Green Grid.” But, according to Hauser, “achieving this vision requires a strong, technical foundation to enable effective integration and operation of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies, along with other clean energy resources, in systems of all scales.”
"We on the brink of a major change,” said Hauser, who went on to predict “a major transformation, in the utility industry” that will include a built-out grid based on the original design built on our existing infrastructure.
Echoing Knudson’s statements, Hauser cautioned that the complex informational and data demands of a smart grid mean that, “going forward, the system has to look very different, enabling us to move from a megabyte world to a pedobyte world and beyond.”
Essential components of this “information-rich” system include:
* Distributed ensign and operation
* Clean tech priority
* Ubiquitous storage
* Automated savings
* Customer participations
Hauser wrapped up his presentation by reiterating the main goal of the NREL:
“We envision a sustainable, future energy system that is carbon neutral, highly efficient, affordable, reliable, and supportive of high-value domestic jobs. Our vision of a sustainable 2050 energy system is one that provides critical energy services through a ‘system of systems’ working in concert and tailored to meet regional needs.”
De Martini, began his presentation outlining four “Mega Trends” he believes will shape our future energy infrastructure: aging population and urbanization, aging infrastructure, and the “Internet of things” that he defined as, “a growth of people connected to people,” (aka “the human network”)
Cisco’s Internet prediction, quoting William Gibson—“The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed”—De Martini explained how Cisco sees the future of the Internet its attendant energy demands. “By 2013 we will have 1 trillion connected devices. As we beg to look at more distributed resources, whether it’s supply or demand, it’s important that we think about how to unlock the value of clean tech energy.”
De Martini then went on to outline what he called the “Future History of the Grid”:
* Wave 1: Sensing and Response- smart monitoring, damned management (bldg control systems, HEMA, AMI, Variable pricing)
* Wave 2: Clean Generation- solar/wind (clean generation integration and transmission) Distributed generation- local self-sufficiency for commercial and residential property
* Wave 3: Internet of Things- electric vehicles, N-Way smart grids
* Wave 4: Perfect Power- Virtual Power Plants, Distributed Storage (grid scale storage using distributed energy)
With a $35B total net value potential in Georgia, California, and Texas alone, De Martini warns that when it comes to clean tech and future energy demands, “This is a zero sum game.”
“We are coming up against the fact that there’s a winner and loser,” said De Martini. “How do we begin to think differently about monetizing this value so that the investments get made?”
De Martini’s answer: Efficiency is the value, but that value rises and falls based on individual needs and challenges. For example, De Martini pointed out that while cost effectiveness and focus on sustainability has inspired more action in the commercial side of our energy system, residential customers are often unable to justify the costs associated with adopting efficient energy systems.
As a result, De Martini believes we must first ask, “How do you align the [efficiency] incentives?”
“This is where changing perspective becomes effective,” concluded De Martini. “We can assign value in a different way; we can expand the pie.”
Presentations and video of the Santa Barbara Summit on Energy Efficiency are now available online at http://iee.ucsb.edu/sbsee2011.