The intelligent-grid vision is becoming clearer as utilities take incremental steps toward a brighter future.
Michael T. Burr is Public Utilities Fortnightly’s editor-at-large. E-mail him at email@example.com.
“When the intelligent grid gets built, will anyone notice?”
Don Von Dollen, EPRI’s IntelliGrid program manager, is only partly joking when he asks this question. Of course utilities will notice the benefits that come from greater intelligence in the power-distribution network—better diagnostics, greater reliability, more efficient use of assets, improved customer service, and greater control over load patterns.
At the same time, however, these advancements generally are occurring in small steps rather than giant leaps. Very few utilities will flip a switch and wake up the intelligent grid, like a mundane version of HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey. That’s because grid intelligence does not emerge from a single rollout of revolutionary technology, but from strategic planning and targeted investments—a substation here, a metering project there—all aimed at a long-term vision.
“The book value of U.S. T&D assets is something like $400 billion,” Von Dollen observes. “That huge investment will not be transformed, but will evolve through incremental investments that knit together this new intelligent infrastructure, with communications networks and embedded processing.”
And there’s the rub for the intelligent grid.