IEEE smart grid expert offers opinion on distant future of the grid

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A representative of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) was on hand Friday to continue the smart grid dialogue with National Public Radio's (NPR) "Science Friday" show.

Erich Gunther is chair and chief technology officer for EnerNex, as well as a member of the IEEE's Smart Grid Task Force.

Gunther discussed the engineering and technology challenges associated with updating the grid to handle increased loads. He told NPR that there are some power transmission facilities and transformers running beyond capacity but the smart grid will allow for better management and distribution of power, reduce human error and allow for faster recovery when a transformer trips offline.

Gunther offered his take on the future of the smart grid. "I would hope that we don't have to see any physical widgets. It would just do the right thing," Gunther told NPR. "Whatever the customer wants from their comfort point of view, we have systems that are able to detect that, detect our presence, buy the energy at the lowest possible price, and we don't have to go to websites or buy fancy devices and it just does the right thing automatically. That would be the far future."

A looming challenge for the smart grid is being everything to everyone. "That's the trick because everyone wants to optimize for something different," Gunther told NPR." I may want to have the lowest possible price. My neighbor may want to have the best reliability, always on. Somebody else might optimize for the smallest impact on the global environment, and other ones just care about the air quality next door. So that's the big challenge. Automatically optimizing, but optimizing the optimization is going to be a real challenge."

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