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Smart Grid, Smart Utility

The intelligent-grid vision is becoming clearer as utilities take incremental steps toward a brighter future.

Fortnightly Magazine - February 2007

conditioning and appliance control,” Cortez says.

Additionally, by effectively creating a mesh of real-time monitoring devices throughout the grid, the system will give CenterPoint orders of magnitude more data about network operations. Such data would allow advanced diagnostic analysis and automatic outage detection and localization.

But this quantity of data requires much more sophisticated processing capabilities than have been necessary in the past, as well as the ability to integrate and analyze data coming from a potentially unprecedented number of different systems and devices.

“It’s not just the meter, but also the transformer, the substation, and the transmission grid,” says Michael Valocchi, global energy and utilities industry leader for IBM Global Business Services. “If we are going to have an intelligent grid, we need data from all those individual components.” IBM is working with CenterPoint to create back-office systems that will ensure interoperability, integrate the data together, and turn it into useful information. And that information will be the key to giving customers what they want from CenterPoint—better reliability and service.

“Technology has brought different expectations and demands,” Cortez says. “Consumers demand better reliability, and they expect more information and better information. We need to start meeting that expectation to keep customers satisfied. That’s the real driver for building the smart grid.”

Xcel Utility Innovations:Smart Grid, Green Grid

Although California and Texas have embraced the concept of a smart grid, and EPRI and the Department of Energy have made progress in defining its elements and objectives, for utilities in many states the concept still remains nebulous. Is it basically more SCADA? Distribution automation? Advanced metering? The lack of clarity makes it difficult for utility decision makers to understand grid intelligence, much less focus on it as a goal. That hinders support for intelligent-grid ideas, investments and ultimately rate-recovery requests.

“It’s a regulatory conundrum,” says Chris Hickman, an executive vice president with CellNet Technology Inc. “Since no one has come up with a discrete definition of ‘intelligent grid,’ it’s hard for utility commissions to give it their blessing.”

To address this and related problems, Xcel Energy is working with various stakeholders to develop a coherent vision of the smart grid. The company established a working group called the Smart Grid Forum to engage technology companies, public officials, policy experts, environmental advocates, and other participants in an effort to define what the smart grid means for Xcel, and to determine how stakeholders can help realize that vision.

As a result of this process, Xcel has identified several potential pilot projects that will advance grid intelligence in specific operational areas. More important, however, the process has led Xcel to an expansive conception of the intelligent grid.

“We are looking at it all the way from the fuel source to the end-use consumer,” Lamb says. “Everything from a lump of coal or a breeze of wind to the thermostat has to be part of the smart grid.”

The reason for this encompassing definition is that all parts of utility operations and services affect one another. For example, concerns about climate change increasingly are driving resource decisions