A modern, digital electrical delivery system or smart grid would:
Energy consumers would be encouraged with variable pricing to shift their use from high demand periods to low demand periods. By decreasing peak demand surges our entire energy infrastructure could be run more efficiently. This would be enabled in part by an Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI). AMI can be used for electricity, gas, and water and helps produce efficiencies across all of these industries. For example, it would help consumers by providing real-time monitoring of their utility usage. In addition, as Ali Shahkar a VP from UISOL pointed out to me, advanced "demand response" (DR) solutions would create even more efficiencies by better coordinating usage and generation.
Accommodate Alternative Energy Sources
A smart grid would better accommodate intermittent alternative energy sources such as wind and solar. Beyond digitizing our current infrastructure, the "Unified Smart Grid" as promoted by Al Gore would also require a new high capacity backbone that could distribute energy from where it is generated (solar in the Southwest or wind in the Midwest) to where it is consumed.
A new smart grid would also allow for generation at the local (rooftop panels) and regional (microturbines) levels. It would enable the more efficient and more reliable microgrids which are composed of small generators each of which are located close to a collection of users. Microgrids are advocated by former Motorola CEO Robert Galvin and former Electric Power Research Institute CEO Kurt Yeager in their book "Perfect Power." Organizations working on microgrids include CERTS (Consortium for Electric Reliability Technology Solutions) at the Microgrid Testbed at Dolan Technology Center and GE (a good microgrid overview document from GE here).
Provide More Stable Power
With real-time information, problems on the electric grid can be more quickly identified and resolved. However, there are some concerns about the security of a digitized grid as recently voiced by IOActive. A new stable and secure power system would have to be designed with cyber security in mind.
Smart Grid Money
President Obama has often spoken about the need for a smart grid and recently allocated $11B allocated for it in the stimulus package he signed in February (NY Times 3/27/09). GigaOm's Earth2Tech says that "Smart Grid Companies are in a 'Feeding Frenzy' over Stimulus". Along with the continued funding of GreenTech companies, several SF Bay Area SmartGrid companies such as Trilliant and Silver Spring Networks have recently received additional investments.
Smart Grid IT Companies
"Energy is the biggest market opportunity of our lifetime" (attributed to John Doerr in a previous blog post) so most of the major IT players have smart grid initiatives (such as IBM, GE, SAP, Microsoft, Google, Accenture, and Cisco). For a more complete list of companies involved in smart grid work check out GridWise's member page or Silver Spring Networks' list of smart grid technical partners. GridWise Alliance and Demand Response and Smart Grid (DRSG) Coalition are two of the major industry associations.
Chris King, the Chief Strategy Officer from eMeter, told me the major AMI players include:
-Itron: HQ in Washington State
-Elster: HQ in Luxembourg
-Landis+Gyr: HQ in Switzerland
-Sensus: HQ in Raleigh, NC
For a list of AMI and MDMS (Meter Data Management Systems) standards bodies check this list on eMeter's site.
SF Bay Area Smart Grid Players
San Francisco Bay Area companies and organizations active in the smart grid space include:
-Electric Power Research Institute - a non-profit consortium of utilities and companies which acts as both an R&D lab and a think tank.
-Google which described their partnership with GE on the smart grid in their blog (and here is an outside perspective).
-Cisco which is dipping its toe into the smart grid industry.
-Oracle which has metering and data management software as part of their utilities practice and recently published a smart grid report.
-OSISoft has taken advantage of their position as the leader in managing time series data and events for utilities to create products for AMI and the smart grid. Partners include SAP.
-Silver Spring Networks creates IP based intelligent utility networking.
-Trilliant offers wireless network solutions and software for AMI and the smart grid.
-Lawrence Berkeley National Lab including PIER Demand Response Research Center and The Consortium for Electric Reliability Technology Solutions (CERTS)
-Echelon which provides control networks and other AMI infrastructure.
-eMeter provides software for real-time monitoring and demand / response solutions in the AMI and MDMS space.
-Greenbox creates consumer focused AMI software.
-Pacific Gas and Electric owns the infrastructure and much of the knowledge on energy management in the SF Bay Area.
-AgileWaves has a web-based AMI offering.
-OrbitCRM creates energyOrbit a SaaS demand side management tool.
In my previous blog post I mentioned some interesting GreenTech companies and resources. Here are some more sources on the smart grid:
-DOE's overview of the "The Smart Grid"
-Smart Grid News
-Energy Central's smart grid section
-Smart grid section of GreenTechMedia
-California Public Utilities Commission workings on smart grid (recommended to me by Matt Barmack from PG&E)
-Public Utilities Review
-Electric Energy Online
A few weeks ago I talked about Web 2.0 marketing in my class. People are using tools such as blogs, podcasts, forums, and social media sites to better communicate with their customers.
Our thirst for energy will continue to grow as global populations and global economies continue to grow. The economic expansion of developing countries such as India and China and the increased globalization of the world's markets will only accelerate our needs.