Smart Grid: Mirage or Reality?

Is Smart Grid coming soon to your neighborhood? Don’t count on it. With respect to consumer Smart Meters, only about 25% of the installed base has been replaced or approved for replacement.

Smart Grid’s fundamental concept is that the addition of digital technologies to the electric utility distribution system will permit the monitoring, analysis, control and communications required to maximize throughput while reducing consumption. This will enable utilities to distribute electricity as efficiently as possible and allow end users to consume electricity as economically as possible.

While the benefits of Smart Grid are well understood and the technologies to implement the Smart Grid vision have been developed and are rapidly maturing, deployments to date are limited. Let’s be clear, however: Smart Grid is a global market where some countries are moving much faster than the USA and where global manufacturers and software companies with sophisticated offerings are staking claims to a share of the market. The worldwide Smart Grid product and services market has been estimated at $69 Billion in 2009 growing to $186 Billion by 2015.

If Smart Grid is such a good thing, why is it not being deployed more rapidly in the USA?

  • The Return on Investment is in years or decades, not months – However, in August Black & Veatch showed that Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) customers could save $2.8 Billion on their electric bills over the 20 year life of smart meters, based on the results of a one year pilot.
  • Utilities are not early adopters of technology – Try and sell to a utility a product that has not been deployed somewhere else without failing for ten years. The culture of the electric utility industry has been to emphasize reliability over operations optimization.
  • The electric utility industry in the USA is highly fragmented – Privately-owned, local-government owned, and co-op utilities operate independently and with a monopoly in their markets.
  • Rate increases are controlled by regulatory bodies – Utilities make investment decisions independently but must justify cost recovery to state regulatory agencies before raising rates to cover Smart Grid costs. State regulatory agencies are subject to political forces, primarily the enthusiasm of the consumer for an investment.
  • Smart Grid is not entertainment – There is no Steve Jobs selling Smart Grid ‘pods’ to the masses. The average electricity consumer is woefully undereducated about Smart Grid benefits and consequently lukewarm in his or her enthusiasm for rate increases to cover Smart Grid investments.

Industry watchers believe that as deployment of Smart Grid technologies becomes more prevalent, that acceptance and then enthusiasm will accelerate the trend.

DLT Solutions’ vendor partners are actively supporting the Smart Grid trend with products and solutions:

Oracle

Oracle Utilities Network Management System 1.11, released in August, offers new modeling and analysis features to improve distribution-grid management for electric utilities. These enhancements provide real-time views of grid activity to help align electricity generation with demand.

Understanding potential outcomes under multiple possible conditions, such as storms, extreme temperatures and fluctuations in commercial and consumer usage, helps utilities improve contingency plans to maintain continuous operations through events that previously resulted in outages. Version 1.11 also provides greater flexibility in integrating geographic information systems (GIS).

With v 1.11 utilities can incorporate electricity from renewable resources like solar roofs and backyard windmills, allowing utilities to use local generation to meet renewable resource targets.

The new supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) integration options in v 1.11 alleviate reliance on a particular vendor’s SCADA system, allowing utilities the option to retain their current SCADA while moving efficiently and cost effectively into the smart grid era. Oracle delivers the flexibility to change to a new SCADA system without disrupting major smart grid capabilities.

Autodesk

Also last month, Autodesk released two products for use by utilities in their Smart Grid design work. AutoCAD Utility Design allows a designer to create a design based on business rules and share the design as a template with others in the organization. The product ships with more than 8,000 rules, enabling the designer to more rapidly develop standards-compliant design artifacts.

Autodesk Infrastructure Design Suite Premium 2012 offers model-based design, analysis, and visualization capabilities for a comprehensive Building Information Modeling (BIM) solution for infrastructure and utility design. This includes electric and gas transmission lines and distribution networks, power generation facilities, and substation design projects.

Symantec

Symantec addresses both the data management and cybersecurity issues inherent in Smart Grid deployments. National recognition of cyber threats to critical infrastructure, particularly SCADA systems, requires that utilities address network security within their operations control centers. Symantec solutions for the control center enable network managers to prevent, detect, and respond to threats that would disable the grid.

Smart Grid meter data will require unprecedented data management capability by utilities. With the regulatory requirement for 7 year retention of smart meter data received at 15 minute intervals, it has been estimated that 28 petabytes of storage will be required for a 10 million meter deployment. Protecting the privacy of data while making it available for timely analysis is a challenge that Symantec is addressing.

To ensure that data received from throughout the electricity distribution system is trusted, encryption is desirable. With Verisign User Authentication Symantec offers a set of solutions, including managed services, that addresses this need.

Energy providers need to automate the management of endpoints to ensure that systems and devices have the latest security patches without a labor intensive manual update. Symantec solutions provide antivirus, white listing, hardening, and patch management facilities to accomplish this critical task.

Power Analytics (formerly EDSA)

Power Analytics’ Paladin SmartGrid software platform is designed specifically for on-line management and control of “hybrid” power infrastructures, integrating traditional utility power with on-site power generation. The platform optimizes energy consumption in multi-energy-source sites, whether they are focused on minimizing annual costs, carbon footprint, peak load or public consumption.

As more organizations move to supplement their utility power with on-premise power generation (including solar power, wind turbines, and battery storage), Paladin SmartGrid serves as a “master controller” for intelligent grid design, monitoring real-time power quality, utilization and capacity; monitoring transactions between public electric service and micro grid infrastructure; and maintaining rates and pricing information for managing private-public exchange.

Van Ristau is DLT Solutions’ Chief Technology Officer. He stays current on all aspects of public sector IT, and blogs on the industry IT perspective and cybersecurity. Van is very active on Twitter, tweeting daily news articles using @VanRistau. He also contributes on Google+ and LinkedIn.