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IT Roundtable: The Digitized Grid

Data gathering and controllability offer the quickest path to reliability.
Fortnightly Magazine - January 2005

new control system, to optimize demand against costs.

Another example that will change the power grid in an important way is creating the means to differentiate power reliability and quality between one customer and his next-door neighbor.

There is a lot of buzz in the industry about differentiating service quality for customers. It sounds good, but a lot of reliability and quality problems are very localized. When you have a radial distribution system, there is only one way for power to flow: namely, downhill. If there's a power pole knocked out, the whole area downstream is affected.

Not every customer must have higher reliability, but manufacturers are demanding it. We can't afford to gold-plate the power system with completely redundant capacity, so we need another way to get power online for customers inside an outage area. With distribution automation, the utility can back-feed power up a feeder and get power to a priority customer from a different substation. Based on geography and load, there may not be enough power available. But if you have some customers with interruptible contracts, you can borrow their capacity. Alternatively, you can use distributed generation to pick up that load, or you can grey-out only a portion of the load-with grid-friendly appliances-to make room for those paying for top-quality service.

If we can deploy clever software, microchips, and control systems, we can save 10 percent of the need for new power plants and T&D infrastructure. Over the course of 20 years, that totals $80 billion, including the benefit of having a system that is more responsive and easier to control.

That, in a nutshell, is the opportunity before us.

Fortnightly: What regulatory structures are needed to make this work?

Pratt: The struggle becomes a regulatory one. If there's $100 billion on the table, who gets it? That becomes a critical issue for state regulators.We will work to make sure they are at least made whole, and preferably more than whole.

We're talking with NARUC (the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners) and individual PUCs. There is a great deal of excitement in some circles, but some caution in others.

But fundamentally, information technology has changed the way we do business. It's inevitable that the same wave is coming to the power grid. The value proposition of GridWise says, let's go surf on that wave.

IntelliGrid: Capturing A Flood in a Teacup

The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) stands at the front line of the utility industry's grid-management and reliability developments. To learn how EPRI envisions the industry's future-and how that vision might be realized- interviewed Dejan Sobajic, director of grid reliability and power markets for EPRI in Palo Alto, Calif.

Fortnightly: What is EPRI's IntelliGrid program all about?

Sobajic: IntelliGrid is the word that stands for the power system of the future.

When we look back 30 years, we see the beginning of computers being used in control centers. In the late 1960s and early '70s they were used for the first time to help grid operators with daily tasks. At that time, information technology (IT), generally