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Technology Corridor

EPRI challenges the industry to modernize the grid.
Fortnightly Magazine - August 2004

microprocessors that depend not on bulk energy but on a stream of precise electrons with which there are connected bits of information, absolutely coordinated. That's the model of service for the future.

Those microprocessors will operate through a portal, so that today's meters-which are more of an iron curtain limiting communication-are replaced by a portal that facilitates two-way communication between consumers and suppliers. When the industry has that, it can begin to offer new services and to integrate distributed resources, bringing on board renewable energy and other intermittent energy sources.

Double Up

A digitally controlled system can integrate those distributed generation sources, and can use silicon rather than iron and steel to manage those sources. The bottom line is that the technology exists, the means are there, but we have to acquire the will and the incentive to roughly double the rate of investment in this power industry.

The pattern of investment in the industry has always been spiky. Utilities have overbuilt and then underbuilt.

But the industry has institutionalized underbuilding during at least the last 10 or 15 years.

Many thought utilities would make up for this by building market-based combustion turbines. In many ways, those combustion turbines have simply reinforced the inherent vulnerability of the underlying power-delivery system. There was little coordination between those efforts, and now energy markets are faced with a problem of much higher gas prices, which will also reinforce the boom-and-bust environment in supply and prices.

Utilities have to build up investment in every aspect of the business. What's that going to cost? There's no free lunch. But this would cost the average consumer about $3 a month, and I would suggest that because that consumer would have far greater control over electricity service - what kind, how much and under what conditions-he or she has the ability to save far greater than the cost.

In addition, utilities will have the ability to eliminate the cost of power disturbances that raise the costs of goods and services. That's going to be worth several hundred dollars a year to every consumer.

On top of that, utilities will accelerate national productivity and economic growth dramatically, which will build income for everyone. Right now, listening to customers, the issue is trust. Utilities have to provide leadership and build trust at every level so that consumers are an active part of this coalition for electricity value transformation.

This is not a partisan issue. When you get right down to it, the modernization of the U.S. power system is something that is absolutely essential. It's one of the most important policy steps that this nation can, and must, take. It may not be the most dramatic step, but it is the most important step toward ensuring the future welfare and livelihood of this nation.

Yeager's 5 Maxims

Maxim #1 The Smart Grid: Resolves Power System Vulnerability
Digitally control the power delivery network by replacing today's analog electromechanical switching with real-time power electronic controls as the foundation of a new smart, self-healing power delivery system. This is the essential step needed to