Recently I’ve been hearing some utility executives use a new catchphrase: “reverse Robin Hood.” The phrase is shorthand for policies on net
Fostering Smart Grid Evolution
A deliberate approach to infrastructure advancement.
of escalating electrification; a time when the ability to successfully manage and satisfy the growing demands for electrical energy will substantially shape many major aspects of the future. That success will depend a great deal on a smart grid that productively employs information and services from, and interactions among, large numbers of intelligent, communicating entities—including people—at every point in the electric supply chain.
Many of the more promising smart grid capabilities will require extensive orchestration of information and functions in many highly distributed components; meaning that much of the desired smartness of the anticipated smart grid can’t happen without successful integration of unprecedented scale and complexity, both within and among utilities. To get it done, utilities will have to build and operate increasingly large and interconnected information frameworks that are much more functional and secure than those in use today. Done right, utilities can reasonably look forward to the timely emergence of improved means and methods for producing, moving, storing, and using electrical energy. To get it right, utilities should strive to thoughtfully plan and implement the conditions that will foster efficient an orderly smart grid development. This is the essence of managing smart grid evolution.
Managed vs. Incidental
Smart grid capabilities, and their respective benefits, are generally realized by integrating intelligent components, data, communications, processes, and practices. Furthermore, the benefits realized are substantially affected by the extent to which the integration effectively encompasses the whole utility enterprise. This includes the degree to which IT/OT convergence is accomplished by eliminating traditional technical and organizational barriers between an electric utility’s business information technologies (IT) and the operations technologies (OT) that monitor and control the utility’s electric system. In a nutshell, increasing the extent and quality of integration will substantially increase the range and value of the smart grid benefits.
The case for enterprise-level smart grid integration would seem to be a no-brainer—except for the frustrating fact that it’s much more easily said than done. There, alas, is the rub. Achieving efficient smart grid integration that empowers the whole utility enterprise requires deliberate, ongoing, and consistent enterprise-level planning and management by a large and very diverse cast of suitably qualified participants. It also takes significant amounts of time, money, and resources that might at first glance appear unaffordable, unjustifiable, or both. Needless to say, the managed approach to smart grid evolution can seem to some like an unnecessary barrier to progress. As a result, some decision makers will mislabel the path of managed evolution as “analysis paralysis,” declare themselves as “enlightened pragmatists,” and then steer toward the presumably easier course.
Given the rigors and resources associated with managed evolution, many utility decision-makers are understandably inclined to routinely favor more expedient, self-contained, and independent automation initiatives that quickly produce some tangible results and, at least on the surface, create the impression that the things that need to happen are getting done. The temptations of expedience are often reinforced by influential purveyors of smart grid products and services who persuasively assert that much of what a utility should want from the smart grid is right around