Rushing the smart grid

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Dick DeBlasio, Chair, IEEE 2030 Working Group

By Dick DeBlasio, Chair, IEEE 2030 Working Group

Some of the smart grid's most powerful benefits -- reducing carbon footprint, costs and likelihood of blackouts -- demand growing into a model of two-way power flow, increased deployment of energy-storage technologies and accommodation of more varied sources of energy. The historical, sharply contrasted definitions of power generation and consumption are blurred in the long-term vision of a significantly more robust, next-generation facility for electricity delivery. A traditional power consumer would also be capable of storing and/or generating power, and feeding it seamlessly back to the grid.

But in the rush to deliver immediately on the smart grid's promise, this revolutionary element of the long-term vision is being underemphasized. And now is not the time to settle for a non-optimized smart grid course.

Now or Later?

The argument against two-way power flow is that it is too complicated and costs too much to engineer. Keep it simple, say the critics, in this nascent stage of smart grid development.

Indeed, the lack of urgency in enabling two-way power flow is understandable from the perspective of the smart grid's industrial stakeholders. As today's business rules are set up, utilities are compensated only for selling power/electrons; manufacturers, meanwhile, must roll out vehicles and other products that consumers can understand, buy and use today. Migrating to two-way power flow does introduce new complexities to the relationships among power producers and consumers in terms of who owns what, management of available supply, the impact of "load shifting" on generation and distribution of energy and billing and measurement. These are complicated questions with high-stakes answers, and industry's first concern must be to make money within the confines of today's marketplace.

But as for the smart grid's architects and shapers in government, regulatory bodies and standards development, it is critical that we not set the smart grid in motion today in a direction that we know is not optimal (and plan to correct course later). To scope out and incentivize a system predicated on only one-way flow of power -- from utility to user -- would be to miss a key moment of opportunity and minimize the potential for success of the entire venture. Why not try to envision the best possible smart grid now, when it is most cost-effective for industry to plan for that vision and grow into it? We must not put utilities and manufacturers in position to have to invest in retooling later.

The Most Efficient Smart Grid

Tremendous growth in energy-storage technology and applications is inevitable over the next decades of global smart grid deployment. An array of discrete and hybrid energy storage systems figure to be integrated with the electric power infrastructure.

It is important to remember that the batteries of electric vehicles (EV), for example, can be leveraged as distributed generators. In a scenario in which power flows not only grid to EV but also from EV to grid, batteries can produce power on which the grid can draw. With interoperability of distributed-generation resources such as EVs and two-way power flow via IEEE 1547- and IEEE 2030-based systems, the grid would be rendered significantly more efficient and the need for more base power generation would be cut substantially.

IEEE 1547 "Physical and electrical interconnections between utility and distributed generation (DG)" -- published in 2003 and reaffirmed in 2010 for another five years-defines the performance, operation, testing, safety considerations and maintenance ramifications of interconnecting a distributed-generation resource to the grid; IEEE 2030 "Draft Guide for Smart Grid Interoperability of Energy Technology and Information Technology Operation With the Electric Power System (EPS), and End-Use Applications and Loads" -- ratified in September 2011 -- identifies the standard interfaces required for connecting utilities with end-use applications and technologies such as those for distributed generation.

In a system of standardized two-way, end-to-end power flow, in which a variety of distributed generators such as EV and static batteries can be tied into the grid, the grid effectively behaves as the storage technology. In this way, the smart grid would evolve into a kind of implied energy storage facility. Architecting a smart grid built on such a vision today allows utilities and manufacturers to build most cost-effectively toward the optimal next-generation system of power exchange.

A Systems-Level Approach

Where economics and interoperability could become issues with regard to storage and two-way power flow would be if governments, regulators and standards bodies were to effectively pick technology winners and losers today.

IEEE P2030.2 "Guide for the Interoperability of Energy Storage Systems Integrated with the Electric Power Infrastructure" is being developed as a systems-level approach to the many discrete and hybridized storage technologies that will have a role over the years of smart grid rollout. Terminology, functional performance, evaluation criteria, operations, testing, engineering principles are being examined in the IEEE P2030.2 Working Group in order to explore optimization, utilization, cost recovery and other technical characteristics of an array of energy storage systems.

Economic and political incentives will be necessary, too. Storage technology will demand substantially more research over the next decades, and national standards encouraging greater reliance on renewable energy sources, too, would help drive innovation.

If we don't optimize the use of storage on EVs or static batteries in a seamless system of two-way power flow, we are putting off the opportunity to realize some of the smart grid's most valuable benefits. Enhancing the reliability of electricity delivery, reducing costs for consumers and providers of power, enabling more stable and sustainable national energy strategies and reducing the environmental impact of global power consumption are all possible via the smart grid over the long haul. We cannot afford to sell its potential short today.

About the Author
In addition to his role as chair of the IEEE 2030 Working Group, Dick DeBlasio is a member of the IEEE Standards Association Board of Governors and chief engineer with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.