Convergence: Smart grid and smart cities

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In this interview with FierceSmartGrid, Steven Collier shares his insights about the relationship between smart grids and smart cities. He addresses smart grid developments that are important in order for cities to meet the challenges of explosive growth. He also describes IEEE's Smart City Initiative. Collier is an IEEE Technical Expert whose broad experience includes being a consultant and executive with energy, telecommunication and information technology companies.

Steven Collier

FierceSmartGrid: How will exploding urban population growth impact the electric grid?

Steven Collier: The United Nations predicts a near doubling of city dwellers by 2050, from 3.2 to 6.3 billion, as the world's population increases from 7 to 9 billion. This combination of population growth and urbanization will profoundly change the fundamentals of urban areas throughout the world as well as the electric grids that serve them. Obviously, more people in cities means more electric power will be required, but the implications are greater than that.

The thing that excites me most is that we haven't seen everything yet. In fact, we really haven't seen anything yet.

Cities more than ever require economical, reliable, secure, and sustainable power and energy for deployment, operations and management of infrastructure, procurement and utilization of resources, and provision of services. Their citizens and businesses require the same. Unfortunately, it has become apparent that the traditional electric grid model is less and less capable of meeting these requirements.

FierceSmartGrid: How will electric power grids meet the needs of growing cities?

Steven Collier: A new grid model will meet the mushrooming needs of cities throughout the world. It is already emerging. Look, for example, at what is happening in the U.S. About 3,000 monopoly electric utilities historically provided essentially all of the power and energy requirements of some 140 million residential, commercial and industrial customers. They did so with some 10,000 generating plants powered predominantly by burning carbon and uranium fuels. The electricity was delivered one-way from generators through transmission lines to be distributed in remote load centers in a nationwide patchwork of a few, loosely connected synchronous AC grids.

Now, for manifold reasons (e.g., sustainability, reliability, economy, security, and quality of service), the centralized approach is giving way to energy production, storage, and management at the distribution edges of the grid. There are already more than 20 times as many "edge power" facilities as there are traditional utility plants. They are increasingly powered by renewable energy -- notably wind and solar. Globally, over the next decade or so, billions of distributed energy production, storage and management systems will be deployed. In developing economies where there is little or no centralized legacy grid, this "Grid Edge" may actually leapfrog the developed economies' legacy model.

FierceSmartGrid: What role does the smart grid play in the smart city?

Steven Collier: Adequate physical infrastructure remains necessary, but is no longer sufficient for urban cities in the 21st Century. Information and communications technologies (ICT) and virtual social networks are essential to ensure a clean, economical and safe environment in which people can live, work and play and in which they can get and use the goods and services that they want and need. Essentially every aspect of urban life, including the physical infrastructure, ICT and virtual social networks, requires electric power and energy -- the grid.

Similarly, adequate physical infrastructure remains necessary, but is no longer sufficient for the electric grid in the 21st Century. The decentralization of the electric grid with the proliferation of distributed independent energy sources (especially stochastic, non-dispatchable renewables), as well as distributed energy storage and management systems, similarly dictates the best possible ICT and social networks to ensure efficiency, reliability, security and quality of service. The grid must become a smart grid.

Modern (smart) cities and modern (smart) grids that serve them will be symbiotic and will likely share electronics, telecommunications and information technologies. They may even share in the production, storage and management of energy.

FierceSmartGrid: What are some technology or business trends that will accelerate the development of the smart grid and the smart city?

Steven Collier: Residential, commercial, and industrial customers will continue to deploy distributed generation, storage and energy management, even though it may cost more in the short run. Their motivation is not solely to save money: sustainability, reliability, security, independence, power quality, and customer service are also drivers. In the developing economies that cannot extend centralized grid power to everyone, edge power is a faster and cheaper (and, in some circumstances, the only) way to obtain electric power and energy.

A smart grid and a smart city can coordinate monitoring and control of the city's power demand and energy consumption to either reduce the utility's peak power demand and/or schedule it during times when the utility's rates are lowest.

Renewable energy sources, particularly solar, and battery storage are becoming better and cheaper every day. R&D steadily improves performance versus price.  Wider deployment yields further reduction in cost and improvement in quality through the economies of mass production. Renewables and storage will be to the electric grid what integrated circuits were to electronics, telecommunications and information technologies.

Exponential improvement in the power versus cost of electronics will continue in turn making the Internet continue to be increasingly powerful and ubiquitous. The Internet is increasingly the global platform for social interaction and commerce, expanding to include not just people to people and people to things, but things to things -- the Internet of Things. This will be the global platform for the smart grid. Smart cities, smart grids and the Internet of Things will all converge.

FierceSmartGrid: What are some examples of how a smart grid and a smart city can be synergistic?

Steven Collier: At the most basic level, if a smart grid is more economical, reliable, sustainable, and secure, then those benefits accrue to the city and its citizens.

A smart grid and a smart city can coordinate monitoring and control of the city's power demand and energy consumption to either reduce the utility's peak power demand and/or schedule it during times when the utility's rates are lowest. 

A smart city served by a smart grid can correlate traffic light monitoring to determine which traffic lights (or other critical facilities) are inoperable due to a utility power outage or vice versa.

A smart city that deploys municipal broadband for its own use or for its citizens might provide the communications platform needed for smart grid operations. The Chattanooga Electric Power Board in Tennessee is a terrific example of this.

Smart grid monitoring and analysis can help a smart city evaluate its energy use and efficiency at each city facility.

FierceSmartGrid: Are you seeing smart cities undertake smart grid innovation?

Steven Collier: Some cities that own and operate electric utilities (aka public power systems) are leading the way in smart grid and renewable energy. An example is a community solar project -- sometimes called a solar garden. Consumers can purchase, lease or subscribe to the output of one or more panels of solar PV cells in larger arrays that the city builds, operates and maintains. The output is credited against their meter reading just as if the solar panels were installed and operating on their property behind their meter. This mitigates many of the barriers that individual consumers face in deploying rooftop or onsite solar while increasing solar energy productivity efficiency, reliability and economy. It can also make it possible for more citizens to participate in solar energy. San Antonio, Texas, City Public Service has been very successful in this area.

FierceSmartGrid: What is most exciting about the future of the smart grid?

Steven Collier: The thing that excites me most is that we haven't seen everything yet. In fact, we really haven't seen anything yet.

As Jeff Bezos of Amazon often said, "Every day is day one on the Internet." 

Every day is day one for the smart grid, for the smart city. Everything that we have talked about in this conversation is improvement in things that we already know about. What about the quantum leaps, the things that we don't know about? I'm a firm believer in what Peter Diamandis and Steven Kottler asserted in their book, Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think, that we will be able to meet and exceed the basic needs of every man, woman and child on the planet because of exponential technologies and other powerful forces.

FierceSmartGrid: What role is the IEEE playing in smart cities?

Steven Collier: Electricity, electronics, telecommunications, information technologies and applications are the center of competence of the IEEE.

Gilles Betis, chair of the IEEE Smart Cities Initiative, says, "IEEE has cultivated a powerful and talented brain trust that can assist municipalities in addressing all essential services that need to be managed in unison, to support the smooth operation of critical infrastructure while providing a clean, economic and safe environment for inhabitants to live, work and play." 

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