A Primer on the Smart Grid and Intelligent Utility Network Trend

Smart Grid2 In a world where increased focus is on reducing CO2 emissions, governments and energy & utility companies are looking for ways to modernize and transform their utility infrastructure in order to improve energy efficiency and reliability. 

For developed economies, the traditional way power has been generated is based on a central generation model with one-way power and information flow from large, often distant generating stations, via transmission and distribution lines to end consumers.   Most of these generation systems contain an aging infrastructure with some equipment dating back 60 years.  This traditional infrastructure lacks sufficient technology and communications at the distribution and end-use level that would enable grid automation & monitoring capabilities.   The model has been a push model, meaning that there is little to no automated information coming back to the central sites from those that use the power.  So if the user suddenly has no power, the only way the utility company knows about it is if they get a call from the users.  Furthermore, the user has very little information available to help them understand how much power they are using, when they are using it, and what they are using it for.

The Smart Grid (also called Intelligent Utility Network) technology is an important emerging trend within the Energy and Utility Industry.  As consumers, we are increasingly aware that the way we consume and save energy can be improved.  Within the energy and utility industry, energy efficiency is also on the minds of the industry leaders.  And our governments are all interested in finding new sources of energy.   By embedding technology into the electrical distribution network, a Smart Grid can transform the way power is distributed and used.  Intelligence throughout the grid can dramatically reduce outages and faults, improve responsiveness, handle current and future demand, increase efficiency and manage costs.

The following video from IEEE will provide some additional introduction into the concept of the Smart Grid.

Produced by IEEE and ScienCentral, Inc.

A Smart Grid can present many opportunities for consumers, businesses, and utilities to benefit from the efficient distribution of energy and availability of intelligent equipment and devices.  For governments, it offers significant opportunities to wisely manage a country’s fuel resources by potentially reducing the need for additional generation sources, better integrating renewable energy sources into the grid’s operations, reducing outages and cascading problems, and enabling users of power to better manage their energy consumption.

The Smart Grid technology will enable energy customers to

  • manage electricity consumption to meet specific household/business goals such as cost, availability, and environmental impact
  • seek energy providers, information, and technologies that help them meet their goals
  • do business with utility companies who communicate a set of energy-related values consistent with their own
  • seek convenient and more personalized ways to interact with their utility to negotiate customized solutions to allow them to meet their needs
  • act on their own wants and needs where regulatory representation does not provide results satisfying these specific needs, primarily through execution of alternative solutions (e.g., self-generation)

So what exactly are the characteristics of a Smart Grid?  The US Department of Energy has characterized a smart grid as having the following attributes:

  • Self-healing from power disturbance events
  • Enabling active participation by consumers in demand response
  • Operating resiliently against physical and cyber attack
  • Providing power quality for 21st century needs
  • Accommodating all generation and storage options
  • Enabling new products, services, and markets
  • Optimizing assets and operating efficiently

The consumer of power from a future Smart Grid will see many differences as a result of adding intelligence into the network.   Some examples are:

  • Smart electricity meters, water meters, and gas meters that collect real-time data on utility usage.
  • Distributed generation, such as solar panels and other micro generation.  These new generators could be located at the home, in the neighborhood, or in the local community.
  • Dedicated energy display units and smart thermostats that provide the user with feedback on energy usage in real-time.
  • Smart appliances with connectivity to the intelligent utility network via the in home meters and display units.
  • Plug-in vehicles as a both source and consumer of energy.  The vehicles, when plugged in would provide information on energy usage.
  • Linked connection to the in-home network and home PCs for further analysis of all the information collected.

The Smart Grid transformation is much more than installation of new technology in a piece-part fashion.  The call for the transformation to a Smart Grid impacts every part of the utility infrastructure including generation, distribution, and usage.  It will be a disruptive change, but a change that will provide huge rewards for the future.  For the utility industry itself, changes needs to happen in four key areas:

  1. Strategy.  We need a  fundamental rethink of business strategy and industry business models across the board.
  2. Collaboration.  Utility providers will need to develop a much closer collaboration with customers, regulators, financers, researchers, technology and service vendors, and other stakeholders than ever before.
  3. People.  The change will be very disruptive to utility companies.  They will need a renewed focus on staff, their roles, competencies, compensation, performance and structure.
  4. Process.  Utility providers will need to re-architect business processes and applications.

There is much work to be done to transform old utility infrastructures to a Smart Grid system.  The transformation will not happen overnight, but could happen over a series of decades.  When complete, countries that transform their utilities infrastructure to an Intelligent Utility Network will have a modern network of sensor-based interactive technologies that will give utilities and consumers unprecedented control over managing energy use, improving energy grid operations, and significantly reducing energy costs. 

There is a ton of information available on Smart Grids.  Here are a few example resources for you to explore….

For other “Primers” here on HorizonWatching, check out http://horizonwatching.typepad.com/horizonwatching/primer/

IDC Insights: 10 Predictions for the North American Utilities industry

 IDC Energy 2010 PredicitonsIDC Energy Insights held its webinar “Top Ten Predictions for the North American Utilities Industry” today.   Rick Nicholson, Vice President of Research at IDC led the call.

During the call the analysts reviewed the important driving forces impacting impacting technology investment within the Utilities Industry for 2010.   Driving forces include energy efficiency and demand response programs, smart metering and the smart grid, renewable and distributed energy and other relevant technologies.

IDC mentioned that energy usage is expected to rebound in 2010 after a down year in 2009 which had an impact on industry-wide revenues.  Also, investments in cleantech is expected to rebound as access to credit improves in 2010.  A big factor in that will be the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Here’s my summary of the top ten predictions reviewed on the conference call:

  1. Energy Efficiency and Demand Response:  will continue to be the “first fuel” choice for electric utilities
  2. Renewable Energy:  Renewable capacity additions will exceed natural gas plant additions
  3. Energy Storage:  Utility-scale stationary energy storage will have its coming out party
  4. Intelligent Grid:  North American intelligent grid ICT spending reaches $18 billion by 2013
  5. Electric Vehicles:  First wave of electric vehicles and accompanying charging infrastructure will emerge
  6. Energy Commodity Trading:  Trading of energy commodities requiring IT support will recover and grow
  7. Sustainability:  Traditional generators will focus on managing their portfolio for sustainability
  8. Water Management:  Scarcity of clean water and availability of new technology will awaken the sleeping water market
  9. Smart Cities:   Smart cities will emerge as proving grounds for the intelligent economy
  10. IT Spending:  U.S. utility industry IT spending growth will accelerate dramatically

I remember back in the 90’s this industry was one of the lackluster (perhaps boring?) industries to be involved with from a technology perspective.  Nothing was really happening back then.  Today it is 180 degrees opposite.  There is so much going on right now to bring technology to this industry.  This is one exciting industry today….and I expect it will be that way for another decade or two.

For more information, IDC Insights has a bunch of resources for you.

ThomasNet: 10 Exciting Inventions and Breakthroughs of 2009

ThomasNet

Thomasnet is an industrial search engine that helps manufacturers and distributors find products, services, or suppliers.  I subscribe to its Industry Market Trends Newlsetter.  I came across an interesting article I thought I’d share with you.

The article, 10 Exciting Inventions and Breakthroughs of 2009, was written by Ilya Leybovich,ThomasNet.com Staff Writer.  The article provides an interesting list of ten scientific and engineering advances that are likely to play important roles in the future.

Here’s a summary of the list of 10 innovations

  1. Growing Metal Stronger than Steel    Modumetal is more durable, energy absorbent and lighter than steel…and may also be less expensive to produce.
  2. Silicon Ink:  Silicon ink will be used to print integrated circuits, sensors and displays
  3. Six-Legged Space Rover:  A new large, robotic rover is expected to play a significant role in resuming exploration missions to the moon.
  4. Kepler Space Telescope:  NASA's Kepler Space Telescope, launched in March, is searching for Earth-like planets in distant star systems.
  5. Power Plug-Sized Computer:  The SheevaPlug is a speedy four-inch computer that consumes a tenth of the power of some desktop systems.
  6. Electronic Eye:  Researchers at MIT are working on a microchip that could enable the blind to regain partial vision.
  7. Generator Microbe:  Generating electricity from mud and wastewater.
  8. Atomic Teleportation:  Scientists teleport data from one atom to another across a distance of one meter.
  9. Climbing Robot:  This robot can wrap itself around poles and climb up or down various types of structures, opening up the typical range of robotic motions.
  10. High-Speed Helicopters:  Sikorsky X2 Technology is engineering helicopters designed for high-speed travel.

For more on each of these, check out the article, 10 Exciting Inventions and Breakthroughs of 2009.

Cleantech Group: 10 Cleantech Predictions for 2010

Cleantech090224_041 Cleantech Group has been providing a list of predictions for a number of years now.  Of course the predictions have to do with the Cleantech industry.  In this year’s version, Chairman Nicholas Parker ‘pens’ the list of ten trends to watch for in 2010. 

Here is the list.

  1. Private capital growth will recover.  The CleanTech Group believes that the amount of money from global venture capital and private equity in clean technology in 2010 will surpass that in 2009 “by a healthy margin” and could be a record year.
  2. Clean economies become the new space race.  Some countries / cities will lead the pack, others will wait and implement later. Greater protectionism surrounding the industry will be a drawback.
  3. Electric cars take the back seat to smart mobility.  The electric car trend will eventually influence urban design and planning. Governments’ tax incentives and budgets will be impacted.
  4. Resource constraints beyond carbon rise to the fore.   Watch for price spikes that impact clean technology sectors as the economy picks up.  This will push companies to use resources more efficiently in order to maintain or boost their profitability.
  5. Commodity trade-off debates intensify.  Look for trade-off debates in the areas of water and energy; land and energy; land and water and carbon and water.   The Cleantech Group predicts that more environmentalists will object to wind and solar projects because of how they use up swaths of land and obstruct the landscape views.
  6. Energy efficiency eclipses solar.  Innovations in information and communication technology, along with more policy support, will help create a boom in energy efficiency.
  7. Marketing suddenly matters. Cleantech Group says that branding will become more important as clean technology goes mainstream.  Marketing campaigns are likely to target more consumers instead of just businesses.
  8. Buffett leads the super rich into cleantech.  Cleantech Group points out how U.S. billionaire investor Warren Buffett has made plays in clean tech-related companies, including GE, Goldman Sachs and Chinese electric car battery maker BYD Co Ltd.  
  9. Acquisitions and consolidations accelerate.    Cleantech Group looks for the pace of consolidation to accelerate in countries with overcapacity like Germany and China.   
  10. The rise of waste-to-energy, geothermal and aquaculture, as part of a shift to more sustainable agriculture and food production.

For more detail, check out the full article Ten Clean Technology Predictions For 2010

From old to new, and a smarter planet

via www.youtube.com

Found this interesting video on the IBM developerworks site. The title, "From old to new, and a smarter planet" describes not only the scene we see, but what we don't see.

developerWorks' Scott Laningham is our host for the less than 2 minute video which plays out on the roads of West Texas. He just couldn't pass up the symbolism of the setting — old oil wells rimmed by miles of wind turbines.

This past weekend, I was driving from St. Louis to Chicago and also saw miles and miles of wind turbines off in the distance. To some these are an eyesore, but to me they represent our future.

At the end of the video, Scott makes a plug for the Smarter Planet demo series on developerWorks. www.ibm.com/developerworks/

House Passes Wind Energy Research and Development Act of 2009

Wind energy currently makes up 2% of the total energy generation in the United States, but there is the potential for it to provide up to 20% with the right improvements in turbine technology, forecasting, energy storage, and expansion of transmission systems.

So it is great to see that the U.S. lawmakers are starting to focus on this area.  Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Wind Energy Research and Development Act of 2009.  The bill, if eventually signed into law, would authorize a comprehensive program to improve the efficiency, reliability and cost effectiveness of domestic wind energy systems.

The bill would authorize the Secretary of Energy to carry out a program of research and development to improve the energy efficiency, reliability, and capacity of wind turbines; optimize the design and adaptability of wind energy systems; and reduce the cost of construction, generation, and maintenance of wind energy systems.

Specifically, this program would include:

  • Examination of new materials and designs to make larger, lighter, less expensive, and more reliable motor blades
  • Technologies to improve gearbox performance and reliability
  • Technologies to improve transmission from remotely located renewable resource rich areas
  • Low-cost transportable towers greater than 100 meters in height
  • Advanced computational modeling tools, control systems, blade sensors and advanced generators
  • Wind technology for offshore applications
  • Automation, materials, and assembly of large-scale components
  • Methods to assess and mitigate the effects of wind energy systems on radar and electromagnetic fields
  • Wind turbines with a maximum electric power production capacity of 100 kilowatts or less

The bill authorizes $200 million dollars per year from 2010 through 2014 for these programs.

Let’s hope this bill, or something like it, makes it way into law.

For more information

Green Recovery?

 

A couple weeks ago, I discussed some trends in VC investments regarding Cleantech.  For the G20 summit early April, the Postdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the Grantham Institute on Climate Change and the Environment published a very interesting document about the potential for a green recovery from the current recession.  (Towards a global Green Recovery) 


The report shows that “Public spending aimed at stimulating private investments that help reducing greenhouse gas emissions can perform very well against criteria for an effective stimulus while providing the additional benefits of lower energy costs and increased energy security.  By focusing on correcting well known market failures in energy use and R&D, it can avoid crowding out private sector activity.  In fact, green recovery programs have the potential to stimulate private investment in low carbon technologies, thereby developing new opportunities for employment, innovation, and wealth creation.”  The report also highlighted key measures that the G20 could take, including physical infrastructure upgrades, energy efficiency increases, and potential flagship project investments. 


So what happened?  The G20 communique included $1.1B in plan pledges – $750B for the IMF, $250B for trade and financing – as well as motions for stricter regulations on hedge funds and banks.  While many groups are arguing that a larger GDP share should go towards green initiatives, others are satisfied that those notions have become mainstream.  Personally, I think that the economic situation is such that priorities will focus on the fastest way to accelerate the recovery, possibly at the expense, at least initially, of green.

Technology Review: 10 Emerging Technologies

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Technology Review has released its annual report on 10 Emerging Technologies of 2009.   I always look forward to this article for it consistently reports on the interesting work going on in labs and academic institutions.  The articles also provide a human element, telling us the person behind the work…how they have worked hard to innovate in the field they are researching.

The 10 emerging technologies MIT presents in this article have the potential to create fundamental shifts in areas from energy to healthcare, computing to communications.  Some of the listed technologies could reach the market within the year, others may take years, but all are expected to have a huge impact in the years ahead.  All of them are interesting to read and think about.  Here the list along with lots of links for more information.

  1. Liquid Battery:  Donald Sadoway, a materials chemistry professor at MIT, has developed a liquid battery that could store enough electricity to allow cities to run on solar power at night.   For more information:  Liquid Battery  
  2. Traveling-wave Reactor:  John Gilleland, manager of nuclear programs at Intellectual Ventures, is leading the development of a reactor that would run on depleted uranium, making nuclear power safer and less expensive.   For more information:  Traveling Wave Reactor 
  3. Paper Diagnostic Test:   George Whitesides, a professor at Harvard University, is using paper to create easy-to-use medical tests that could make it possible to quickly and cheaply diagnose a range of diseases in the developing world.   For more information:  Paper Diagnostics 
  4. Biological Machines: Michel Maharbiz, an assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley, has developed interfaces between machines and living systems that could give rise to a new generation of cyborg devices.  Michel's wirelessly controlled beetle could one day be used for surveillance or search-and-rescue missions.   For more information:  Biological Machines 
  5. $100 Genome:  Han Cao, founder of BioNanomatrix, has designed a nanofluidic chip that could dramatically lower the cost of genome analysis.  Cao's chip could cut DNA sequencing costs dramatically.  Combined with the right sequencing technology, Cao’s chip could allow doctors to tailor medical treatment to a patient’s unique genetic profile, map new genes linked to specific diseases, and quickly identify new viruses and outbreaks.   For more information:  $100 Genome 
  6. Racetrack Memory:  IBM fellow Stuart Parkin has created an entirely new type of data storage on an ultradense memory chip using magnetic nanowires.  This “racetrack memory” could eventually replace all other forms of computer memory and lead to tiny, rugged, and inexpensive portable devices.   For more information:  Racetrack Memory   
  7. HashCache:  Vivek Pai, a computer scientist at Princeton University, has created a new method for storing Web content that could make Internet access speedier and more affordable around the world.   For more information:  HashCache 
  8. Intelligent Software Assistant:  Adam Cheyer, cofounder of the Silicon Valley startup Siri, is leading the design of powerful new software that acts as a personal aide.  This virtual personal-assistant software helps users interact more effectively with Web services to complete tasks such as booking travel or finding entertainment.   For more information:  Intelligent Software Assistant  
  9. Software-Defined Networking:  Stanford computer scientist Nick McKeown believes that remotely controlling network hardware with software can bring the Internet up to speed.   He has developed a standard called OpenFlow that allows researchers to tap into Internet switches and routers to easily test new networking technologies with the click of a mouse—all without interrupting normal service.   For more information:  Software-Defined Networking 
  10. Nanopiezotronics:  Zhong Lin Wang, a materials scientist at Georgia Tech, is pioneering the field of nanopiezotronics.  Wang is creating piezoelectric nanowires that generate electricity using tiny environmental vibrations; he believes they could power implantable medical devices and serve as tiny sensors.   For more information:  Nanopiezoelectronics 

Some of this year's choices, such as #3 – paper-based medical tests and #8 – Intelligent software that acts as a personal assistant, could reach the market within a year.  Others, like #4 – biological machines and #10 nanopiezotronics, could take longer but promise fundamental shifts in fields from computing to medicine, communications to manufacturing.  Its worth noting that three of the technologies are nanotechnology-based:  #5, #6, and #10.

For more information, see Technology Review's article 10 Emerging Technologies of 2009 .  Also the prior year's articles are also interesting to read

THE FUTURIST: Ten Forecasted Trends

THE FUTURIST is a bi-monthly magazine published by the  World Future Society'.   The Nov-Dec 2008 edition's cover story is "Outlook 2009".  In the magazine, there is a list of Top Ten Forecasts for 2009 and beyond.

The FUTURIST always has a flair for dramatic, attention-grabbing prediction/forecasting lists and this year's is no exception.  Here is a summary of this year's list…

  1. Every sound / movement can be recorded by 2030.  By the late 2010s, ubiquitous, unseen nanodevices will provide seamless communication and surveillance among all people everywhere.
  2. Bioviolence becomes a greater threat as the technology becomes more accessible.  Bacteria and viruses could be altered to increase their lethality or to evade antibiotic treatment.
  3. The car's days as king of the road may soon be over.  More powerful wireless communication that reduces demand for travel, flying delivery drones to replace trucks, and policies to restrict the number of vehicles owned in each household are among potential developments.
  4. Careers to become more specialized.  For example, instead of simply majoring in business, more students are beginning to explore niche majors such as sustainable business, strategic intelligence, and entrepreneurship.
  5. The world's legal systems will be networked.  The Global Legal Information Network (GLIN), a database of local and national laws for more than 50 participating countries will lay the groundwork for a more universal understanding of the diversity of laws between nations and will create new opportunities for peace and international partnership.
  6. Professional knowledge will become obsolete almost as quickly as it's acquired.  An individual's professional knowledge is becoming outdated at a much faster rate than ever before.  Rapid changes in the job market and work-related technologies will necessitate job education for almost every worker.
  7. The race for biomedical and genetic enhancement.  Humanity is ready and eager to pursue biomedical and genetic enhancement.
  8. Urbanization will hit 60 percent by 2030.   As more of the world's population lives in cities, rapid development to accommodate them will make existing environmental and socioeconomic problems worse. 
  9. The Middle East will become more secular while religious influence in China will grow.  Popular support for religious government will decline in the Middle East.  Religion in China will likely increase as an indirect result of economic activity and globalization.
  10. Access to electricity will reach 83 percent of the world by 2030.  Electrification, at 73 percent in 2000, may reach 83 percent of the world's people by 2030.  Electricity is fundamental to raising living standards and access to the world's products and services.

Access the full detail here  Top Ten Forecasts for 2009 and beyond.

Most of these seem like they are safe bets to me to be key trends by 2030, except for number 1 and 3.  I think those are much longer term trend (e.g. out another 100 years).