Is Smart Grid Avoiding Real Challenges?

This is an excerpt from a September/October 2011 InTech magazine column. InTech Chief Editor Bill Lydon discusses if Smart Grid is avoiding the real challenges.

In my opinion, there is too much hype about the Smart Grid without looking at the core problems from an engineering and business point of view. There is a constant flow of information, presentations, and discussions about the Smart Grid, but I wonder if this simply makessmart-grid people feel good and avoids facing the real issues. Even politicians are rallying around Smart Grid buzzwords; I call this kind of discussion ‘cocktail party technology talk.’ There is no doubt electrical energy can be managed better, and the Smart Grid concepts will provide more data and can be used to control the flow of energy from generation to users. This does not address the heart of the issue.

The inescapable fact is the demand for electricity is going to be larger than generation capacity in place today, requiring some real planning to avoid problems. At the highest level, there are only two key factors concerning the electrical energy problem namely, demand and supply. The amount of growing demand for power relative to the supply available is a serious problem. The economic slowdown has moderated demand, but this will change as growth returns. Ultimately, there are only two ways to meet future growing energy requirements—increase generation capacity and lower consumption.

Creating more electrical power takes time and investment at a pace that is beyond today’s commitments to build more electrical power generation. This encompasses traditional and alternative power generation, including wind and solar. Adding more capacity, in most cases, requires the addition of more power lines to deliver electricity to users. Major investments need to be made installing electric transmission lines and distribution transformers in emerging countries and replacing aging transmission systems in the U.S. and Europe where about 75% of the networks are more than 30 years old.

Read the full article at InTech magazine.

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  • Bob Bowman

    This isn’t very sexy though, it’s like telling your kids to turn off the lights when they leave a room. Besides it doesn’t address the American way of thinking – new has to be better, and easier.

  • I responded to this article in In Tech, but those comments are not duplicated here so I will make another stating the same. The Smart Grid needs to allow hybrid operation of local power production. Grid Tied needs to be optional to allow standalone OR Grid tied operation. The synchronization issues have not been addressed leaving local power generation unusable when the “Grid” is down. The result is no change in autonomy or decentralization of the power utility. From what I see, the main benefit is to the power companies to gain free real estate for solar panels and the ability to remotely shut off power use. It’s smart alright, smart for the power companies. But when people with solar panels on their roofs have no power due to a grid failure someplace else, they are going to question how smart it really is.