We’ve just recently kicked off a campaign on Smart Grid in which we’re exploring all the challenges utilities and regulators face in making it a reality. Read about the series here, and listen to the shows. What’s been missing however from all of our conversations on Smart Grid, or at least the ancillary point to all of our discussion of problems and solutions, is not only that there will be a lot of challenges, but that we don’t have much of a choice in not doing them.
Implementing Smart Grid can provide a lot of business value in the long run, whether it’s in providing consumers with data about their energy consumption, streamlining maintenance procedures or in providing utilities with real-time analytics. But these goals are necessary to pursue now because utilities are facing other serious concerns.
We posed a question to Ravi Pradhan, the VP of technology at Siemens Smart Grid Division, on our Viewpoint “Managing Transition to Smart Grid”: How do we expect to update to the Smart Grid when we’re already dealing with an aging infrastructure? The question however should really go the other way. The point being, we’re looking for a new solution precisely because the infrastructure is outdated. Any longer without a change will only produce more problems in the long run.
“We have a very, very reliable Grid, but as the cost of maintaining that continues to increase, at some point it does begin to make sense to bring in new technologies to replace the existing infrastructure, and the idea of course is that this new infrastructure would require a low maintenance cost and would effectively pay for itself,” Pradhan explained.
The Smart Grid, he adds, is the most economically viable way to achieve that goal. It would offset the cost of maintaining the legacy infrastructure and help to make it more efficient and resilient. Utilities are in fact being driven to this option. But that’s not the only aspect. Utilities also know they have to become focused on renewables, and the current grid needs to update to the times one way or the other. They’re again turning to Smart Grid as the only real, viable solution.
Consider that we now live in an information age. Utilities cannot be backward any longer about providing grid information back to the consumer, and the Smart Grid is built to do just that. Pradhan adds that any new change to a consumer product or pattern of usage can’t be presented without some major regulatory oversight. Having assured reliability in a Smart Grid and thinking about it as the only priority is precisely the way to get that regulatory approval and limit the time spent on the process.
Pradhan compared the Smart Grid update to an air traffic control center implementing GPS into their planes and towers. New technology made traffic go up, not down. Technology made the process accurate and nimble, and the whole environment was able to adapt and grow. We need to bring in more renewables, and we need to take advantage of the fact that there are technologies that make renewables more and more viable. But the grid needs to adapt to be able to make use of that.
“It’s the same kind of thing with the grid,” Pradhan said. “We don’t have to install a whole new set of new wires if we know how to better or more optimally use it. So the answers to these things are being handled very specifically and in a very targeted manner.”
Hear more from Ravi Pradhan on our Viewpoint, “Managing Transition to Smart Grid.”