Friday, March 5, 2010

The Smart Grid -- Challenges and Opportunities

Today we heard a fabulous presentation on the Smart Grid by Mr. Richard Brooks of ISO - New England (NE). He is a Principal System Architect with responsibility for ISO-NE’s Enterprise Architecture since 2004. He is the primary author of ISO New England’s Smart Grid White Paper that was published in February 2009. Mr. Brooks spoke in our 2010 Spring Speaker Series to a capacity audience of researchers, faculty, students, staff, and guests from the community. The faculty and students were from the Isenberg School of Management, the College of Engineering, and Departments of Computer Science, Mathematics and Statistics, among others. The interest in the topic of smart grids is huge and we were so delighted to have Mr. Brooks share with us his immense knowledge and insights on this most important topic.

The Smart Grid is the tight coupling of: the power and delivery system and advanced IT and command-control monitoring capabilities, and supporting regulations, policies, market rules, and business processes that will improve the overall efficiency of electricity production, delivery and consumption, evolving from the existing grid infrastructure while maintaining high reliability and strong security.

Some highlights from today's talk:

The US government is behind the push for a Smart Grid with stimulus money being like steroids for the Smart Grid. The government wishes to utilize advanced, information-based technologies to increase power grid reliability, efficiency, and flexibility, and reduce the rate at which additional electric utility infrastructure needs to be built.

Hence, there is an intense need and desire to make the most out of existing capacity, while, at the same time, taking advantage of such innovations as smart appliances and devices, distributed resources and generation, including renewables (think wind energy and solar energy), and even the deployment and integration of advanced electricity storage and peak-reducing technologies, including plug-in electric and hybrid electric vehicles (very cool)! Plus, consumers are to be provided with timely information and control options regarding their electricity usage.

We got to hear about the Olympic Peninsula GridWise project (in which clothes dryers reduced their power after a triggered event), and about the Google Power meter, now in prototype.

It was clear from the talk why a Smart Grid is needed (including the need to reduce electricity costs and the challenges posed by intermittent sources, such as wind, plus, the NIMBY issue of building new generation and transmission facilities).

The objectives of the Smart Grid include those for reliability, for the environment, and for consumer control.

Significant paradigm shifts are now underway, some of which are:

1. The construction of new facilities is shifting to more efficient use of the existing system (so this is a great area for operations researchers and management scientists to work in).

2. Static operations parameters are giving way to dynamic calculations (including dynamic pricing).

3. Large supply sources are shifting to small supply sources (think of households and businesses generating their own power).

4. Centralized control is moving to decentralized control.

5. Passive customer participation will be moving to active customer participation.

6. Manual operations will be shifting to automated ones.

We will need new analytical tools for demand management, supply management, and network management, as well as markets management, along with more careful collaboration and coordination among stakeholders in the electric power supply chain (something my research group has published a lot on).

Mr. Brooks also talked about the role of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) since it was tapped to lead in standards for the Smart Grid (and this is one of the great challenges since interoperability is a huge issue). He suggested that NIST/DOE/FERC should prioritize design work and standards for system control among controlling entities.

We urgently now need:

1. a clear view of the Smart Grid from different states and the regulators;

2. what is achievable and by when;

3. new business models (up my alley);

4. new cooperation/collaboration paradigms (sounds like a great app of cooperative networks);

5. direction and leadership among all levels of government.

Mr. Brooks concluded his brilliant talk by summarizing the risks and by stating that the Smart Grid will not go away, that more intelligence means more complexity (indeed, what to do with the deluge of data that is starting to come in), and that the number of Smart Grid projects will increase dramatically as stimulus money is distributed this year.

Above is a photo of Mr. Brooks with the group that accompanied us to lunch at the University Club to continue the discussions. The discussions among those who were lucky to be in his audience today will continue for days to come! He clearly educated us and inspired us to see the Smart Grid as a dynamic, highly important topic for both deep research questions, as well as for practice. His talk was multidisciplinary and just perfect for our Speaker Series. We are indebted to him for his terrific presentation today.