Discover BrilliantNext up, a discussion of trends in energy industry R&D. Starring:

  • Gridwise Council, Alison Silverstein (Moderator)
  • PIER and California Energy Commission, Merwin Brown, Director of Transmission Research
  • Modern Grid Initiative, NETL, Steve Pullins
  • Bonnevile Power Authority, Terry Oliver, Chief Technology Innovation Officer

Oliver: Electric utilities invest tiny amounts of money in R&D — "less than the dog food industry." This is bad on its own, but particularly bad because utilities are facing big and growing challenges. Transmission is getting stressed; reliability standards are getting more stringent; more renewables coming online; physical security is poor; demand response is lagging; more and more people are feeding into the grid as well as drawing from it.

Utilities should be driving their own research agendas. BPA has kicked of a big new R&D agenda.

Brown: Why smart grid? It’s hard to site new transmission. New markets and technologies have increased operational uncertainties and instabilities. Large, brittle grids increase the chances of blackouts. Past outages revealed deficiencies. Aging infrastructure. Demand response and distributed generation only help these problems if they’re integrated in the grid.

R&D priorities: Accelerate new transmission. Increase capacity. Enhance operations under uncertainty. Enable renewable deployment. All while maintaining reliability and affordability.

The heart of real-time system operations is the "phasor measurement unit." (A little communications widget that synchronizes with others via satellite.) That’s a lot of data, so you also need new ways of analyzing all that data. This takes the grid from x-ray technology to MRI technology. Now he’s listing all sorts of whizbang new technologies being researched. I’ve never seen so many acronyms in one place.

Pullins: Based on our analysis, it will be around 2030 before we have anything we could really call a smart grid. The Modern Grid Initiative is … oh, doing all sorts of stuff.

Ron Ambrosio of IBM (not on program): IBM cares about the grid because it requires large-scale integration and highly distributed programming, which matches with IBM’s core skills. Smart grids and green tech are huge business opportunities.

Smart grid intelligence is: data sources, data import, data integration, analytics, optimization. The last two are the value proposition.

Silverstein: Interoperability is the crucial feature of a smart grid. Stuff’s got to work together. Think national highway system. Think internet. A neutral infrastructure that enables multiple, individualized uses.