What can automate and control your energy systems while increasing efficiency, fine-tuning demand response, and integrating reliable renewable energy? Apparently the smart grid can do all that and more—at least that was the buzz at this year’s Distributech Conference and Exhibition.
Held in sunny San Diego, CA—a locale gratefully appreciated by several out-of-state attendees who were able to skip out on the latest series of snow storms pummeling the country—Distributech is an annual event that focuses on a variety of power utility topics ranging from automation and demand response to advanced metering and the smart grid.
When I’ve attended the event in years past, it always struck me how the discussion about centralized power distribution often leaves out some factors that will ultimately determine whether or not the smart grid will succeed. Both energy storage and renewable energy integration are key elements: No future power system—smart or centralized—will be able to efficiently operate without them. As a result, I was gratified to see renewable energy integration and energy storage on the agenda. There were also presentations with a distributed energy bent, including DG for storage and plug-in electric vehicles, the benefits of customer generate power (i.e., onsite power) for demand response, and “integrating distributed PV in a smart grid.”
It seems clear to me that the smart grid cannot exist without distributed energy. I summed up this stance in a 2009 editorial, “Conceptually, the smart grid would coordinate power production from both large and small power producers: between your local power utility, for example, and a homeowner’s rooftop solar installation. Ideally, a homeowner (or, with much more impact, a large industrial or commercial complex) could seamlessly segue between onsite power sources (solar, wind, generators, etc.) and the grid, depending on demand, supply, and other factors.” Two years later, with the smart grid still far from universal implementation and budget constraints hindering many areas of the energy market, it’s more important than ever to continue to include onsite power in the smart grid conversation, because a closed, centralized system will never offer us the flexibility, security, and reliability of an open, distributed generation model.
So what do you think? Do you agree that distributed generation is integral to the smart grid? Can onsite power and traditional electric utilities coexist? And can the real-time data and automation capabilities of the smart grid be used in concert with onsite power to form a more perfect—and efficient—union?