The first ever REE Power Systems Analysis class was granted the privilege of attending the first Oregon smart grid conference on November 9 2010, appropriately titled “Smarter Policy for a Smarter Grid: The First Smart Grid Oregon Public Policy Conference.”
The speakers, diverse insiders from different walks of the energy industry and energy political realm, all seemed to agree on a central theme. No one really has a clue exactly what the smart grid will entail. Yes, there will be new things. Yes, there will be stuff too. Oh, and I almost forgot, it is definitely going to cost a lot of money. Like a shit ton. (By the way, a shit ton is approximately equal to how many BTUs a ton of shit produces in one hour when combusted. I apologize for that.)
More specifically, the smart grid will likely consist of a wide assortment of different end-use meters and controllers, transmission and distribution line sensors, substation sensors; wireless, fiber optic and transmission line communications likely using internet protocols, newly formed aggregators and asset management networks etc. How all of these things will operate and fit together as a coherent whole is probably better understood after a few hits of LSD. No, I don’t condone the use of tryptamine base hallucinogens for alternative cognitive perceptions; yes, the implementation of the smart grid is a mind twist.
The speakers also emphasized the revolutionary nature of this implementation – revolutionary in the sense that it will be chaotic and unpredictable. One of the speakers, an engineer from PGE, essentially stated that currently the industry knows about 10% of what to expect with the smart grid. The rest will develop over time, in a large part through trial and error and with increased technological development.
Another speaker stressed the importance of viewing the smart grid as an “intelligent grid”, meaning more than anything the grid will have the ability to communicate in multiple directions rather than simply operating as a large, incoherent machination. He went on to affirm the smart grid will not create an internet for the grid. Energy production, transmission and distribution are nothing like the internet and they never have been. The grid, because of its complexity, its size and its requirement of reliability, is a different beast and shouldn’t be treated like data or communication assets. Different laws and statutes need to be developed and considered for a smart grid to distinguish the two realms and provide the grid with ever greater reliability.
Consumers can expect to see greater participation in the energy markets. They will be able to have more control over their energy bills and possibly become an active participant in energy production. Besides installing ground source heat pumps to save or sink energy, consumers may have the option to provide energy to the grid from installed solar panels during times of high demand, or even better, with their ELECTRIC CARS!!!
A smart grid related pilot program known as V2G, or Vehicle 2 Grid, will let owners of electric vehicles sign a contract to receive a stipend for energy provided from their car battery, to the grid, during peak energy times. This allows the utility to balance the grid and provides the car owner with income. By some estimates this could be as high as $7000 per year, but will most likely be on the order of $2000. Of course there are issues with this kind of program. Lithium-ion batteries, the most prevalent in electric vehicles, see decreased life span with constant charging and discharging. This would likely be insignificant if utilities discharge the idle car batteries lightly, but the battery packs can still cost up to 30% of the car. Who then, should own the battery when it’s being used by more than one party?
If there was one thing to learn from the smart grid conference and the coming revolution, it’s that there is a lot still to figure out. Many different parties have interests at stake and new parties are coming to the table for a bite.
Along the wayside will fall many false starts and false pretenders, but the next decade will surely see many fascinating advances toward a more intelligent grid and a more coherent energy policy.