The U.S. electric delivery system steadily is becoming more intelligent, but there is no question that the contemporary smart-grid movement marks a definitive break from the past. Several key differences can be expected. For the first time, more of a shared, national regulatory model likely will be adopted across the disparate public utility commissions in various states and regions. Also, a large-scale model of distributed power generation spanning both business and residential users is being proposed. Seamless, two-way communications and control will be enabled so that usage more directly informs generation and enables more efficient operations. These changes are creating an opportunity for bringing greater intelligence to the business of delivering utility services.
The time is now for utilities to engage in smart-grid planning, as decisions being made today will dramatically impact the ways utilities do business in the coming decades.
The U.S. government during the last months of 2009 announced billions of dollars of grants for regional demonstration projects designed to jump start introduction of the long-discussed smart grid.
“These demonstration projects will further our knowledge and understanding of what works best and delivers the best results for the smart grid, setting the course for a modern grid that is critical to achieving our energy goals,” said U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu in a press release. “This funding will be used to show how smart-grid technologies can be applied to whole systems to promote energy savings for consumers, increase energy efficiency, and foster the growth of renewable energy sources like wind and solar power.”
Most of the federal funding thus far has gone toward smart meters. They are an important innovation but only one element of the vision for the next-generation, interstate smart grid that is crystallizing across the power, IT and communications communities: An automated, intelligent and adaptive system for end-to-end, bidirectional power flow spanning the entire nation.
The gathering vision begs significant technical questions about the smart grid’s functional requirements.
For example, the non-uniform nature of the utility industry brings up key questions. While a version of Internet protocol likely will underlie smart-grid communications and control, it’s clear that migration to the smart grid will be evolutionary. So exactly how will the next-generation, cross-jurisdiction system encompass utility operations at widely varying stages of modernization? The smart grid will have to accommodate millions of legacy devices for many years, given that the term “legacy” will encompass everything from refrigerators to the advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) systems that are being installed even today.
Smart-grid security also is a key area of scrutiny, as a breach potentially could jeopardize individuals’ safety, disrupt critical national infrastructure and erode utility customers’ confidence. With communications and control being introduced to the power infrastructure, the most cost-effective time to design and implement comprehensive cyber-security mechanisms is now—so utilities don’t have to re-invest to safeguard information assets after initial implementation.
A movement has unified across the communications, IT and power industries to work out the best answers to such questions, and certainly the distinct voices of various utilities need to be heard in this process. After all, the smart grid’s planners are serving utilities and their customers.
What impact will the smart-grid’s development have on utility customers? Among the most striking changes figure to be the tighter coupling of power generation with power usage and the wider-scale appearance of distributed generation, and this means that consumers will have the potential to partner in energy consumption management and storage.
Historically, there has been no effective means to determine when customers would need power, how much they would need and for how long. Moving forward, the smart grid would enable utilities to better understand and respond to their customers’ usage patterns. This should significantly enhance the efficiency of utility operations, as the load required by power users could be managed more strategically over the course of a day and across energy sources.
Similarly, while there have been some limited instances of customers providing power back to their utilities, the concepts of net metering and distributed generation are expected to expand on a wide scale across both corporate and residential customers in the smart grid. For this to occur, communications and control in the areas of billing and measurement for sub-metering must be improved and standardized. This information must be traded in a standardized way in order for a utility to cost-effectively engage with the full gamut of its customer base.
Other consumer questions, particularly around where the boundaries of communications will extend, are highly controversial. For example, will the smart grid reach into homes and entail control of consumer appliances? Utility insight into these and other implications for consumers will prove invaluable as the smart grid progresses.
A tremendous array of stakeholders will make valuable contributions in the smart-grid’s rollout. Among this landscape of stakeholders, utilities will recognize a dividing line between participants who are creating standards and those that are implementing them. On one side of that point of demarcation, organizations such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and state and regional public utility commissions will influence how the smart grid employs various technologies.
In accordance with terms of the U.S. Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, NIST is crafting a standards roadmap and conformance testing and certification framework for the smart grid. As part of this, NIST is working to identify today’s consensus standards around which smart-grid development can advance. NIST already has identified several standards to help industry planning to progress, such as: IEEE C37.118 [phasor measurement unit (PMU) communications]; IEEE 1547 [physical and electrical interconnections between utility and distributed generation (DG)]; and IEEE 1686-2007 [security for intelligent electronic devices (IEDs)].
FERC, meanwhile, is responsible for mandating the standards and ensuring reliability and security for the nation’s power system across states. Within state and regional jurisdictions, then, this regulatory authority falls to disparate public utility commissions. One of the prerequisites of smart-grid success figures to be unification of the currently fragmented standards landscape across the nation’s electricity delivery infrastructure.
In addition to NIST, FERC and the public utility commissions, other regulators and testing laboratories will contribute to smart-grid implementation. The communications, IT and power industries already have come together to consider exactly what technologies are necessary, how they will be interconnected and what standards refinement or creation will be required to accelerate deployment. This work has been going on, in fact, for nearly a year, and the first fruits of the labor soon will be forthcoming.
The consensus work taking place within the unified community of communications, IT and power engineers today will fuel the go-to-market strategies of technology manufacturers and the utilities who operate the smart grid tomorrow.
The IEEE Standards Association has been involved in smart-grid development requirements co-incident with the creation and passage of the Energy Independence and Security Act. The IEEE P2030 Work Group launched in March 2009 to unite the communications, IT and power industries in defining terms, necessary elements and functional requirements toward crafting smart-grid standards. The work continues in 2010.
Task forces have formed within the P2030 around each of the three industries, but their efforts dovetail in the development of a consensus design guide. For example, the power task force is developing a matrix of the smart-grid’s generation and applications areas to illuminate where interfaces will be necessary for exchange of information; the communications and IT task forces are using that framework of elements to determine how to enable two-way communications and control. Ultimately, the guide is intended to serve as “a knowledge base addressing terminology, characteristics, functional performance and evaluation criteria, and the application of engineering principles for smart-grid interoperability of the electric power system with end-use applications and loads.” It’s scheduled to be available in draft form for balloting in March 2011, and then to evolve as appropriate across the smart-grid’s long-term rollout.
In large part, the technologies that will comprise the smart grid exist today. But standardized methods remain undeveloped for communications and control across those technologies in the interstate smart grid. The consensus design guide being developed by the communications, IT and power communities through the IEEE P2030 Work Group is critical because it will enable the refinement or creation of that broad reach of standards, spanning:
• Demand response;
• Wide-area situational awareness;
• Metering infrastructure;
• Renewable energy integration;
• Cyber security;
• Data networking;
• Information and communications modeling;
• New-scenario management (e.g., supporting electric vehicles); and
• Sensor and other device management.
A more robust family of widely embraced standards is necessary for the seamless deployment, integration and operation of energy, information and communications technologies across the smart grid. That also would reduce the technical barriers to futuristic manufacturing of plug-and-play equipment for the smart grid.
Due process, openness, consensus and transparency must characterize the path from organizing around an idea to ratifying a standard, and further to include post-publication activities. This will ensure that no single party of interest dominates a process, and that real progress is made toward a meaningful solution. Consensus-building efforts, such as those of the IEEE P2030 Work Group, provide such a means toward achieving the standards that will ensure smart-grid success.
The communications, IT and power industries need the input of utilities in this effort now to ensure that the smart grid of tomorrow delivers the efficiencies, levels of performance and reliability and consumer benefits that they require.