February 2010


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Idle Thoughts on Smart Grids

Musings from the GridWise Architectural Council, Orlando, 2010

Toby ConsidineToby Considine

The New Daedalus

Contributing Editor

After a week at the AHR show, and meeting with ASHRAE, and sitting in on B2G (Building to Grid) summit, I was back in the building zone as I sat in on day one of the GWAC meeting. The GridWise Architectural Council (GWAC) is a voluntary organization of people concerned with the future of energy. The Department of Energy sponsors meetings of the GWAC, a commitment that keeps the group in meeting rooms, coffee, and pastry. The DOE also provides administrative support through Pacific Northwest National Labs (PNL).

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The GWAC is immensely influential in the development of the North American approach to smart grids. It draws members from many industries and not just the best thinkers of the utility industry (although its members include those, too). The GWAC often meets at the end of conference or show tied to a different field of energy, to cross-pollinate their approaches. This week, they met after the AHR show. I have never had the time and resources to commit to a GWAC membership; the members make a serious commitment of time. When one of their open meetings is in the same town as me, I always attend if I can.

What follows are mental doodles from my meeting notes, none long enough to warrant their own post.

Is Demand Response the worst marketing phrase ever?

Demand Response is the girlfriend (or boyfriend) who you dated for a while, but dumped because she only talked about her problems. If utilities want to people to care about DR, they have to come up with some better way to talk about it. Until they do, energy suppliers are going to continue to have a hard time engaging their customers.

Is Customer engagement “the disruptive technology”?

The system designs of electrical grids have been defined by deep integration and process interactions. Service integration and service orientation were unknown. The services, both between supplier and consumer, were undefined. Even within the consumer realm, the services were not defined. Rarely does a commercial owner hope to buy electricity on any given day—electricity is not a service. . . Lights, warmth, computing, music, even flushing toilets, now, those are services.

What will it take commercial building owners to embrace energy response

A building owners business is to operate a building efficiently without, at a minimum, annoying his tenants. If he knew a way to use a third less energy without annoying them, he would be doing it already. Annoyed tenants may not renew their leases. It is safer to avoid this risk.

If a building owner could see how each part of his building would respond to DR, and knew which tenants would be annoyed, this risk is removed. I think the killer app of demand response can apply all service degradation only to those tenants who are habitually late on their rent.

Why does the smart grid have no formal architecture?

This was a real challenge when developing the national roadmap. We did not want an architecture, for a good architecture is ultimately an expression of a particular business model. When we developed the national roadmap, we wanted to support any number of business models, both those known today, and those we might find in the future. How would a traditional “architecture”, or perhaps even a TOGAF-style instantiation of Intelligrid, handle, say Google becoming its own virtual utility buying directly in multiple ISOs? We deliberately left architectures undefined.

[an error occurred while processing this directive] We had to socialize the services as “reducing the size of interoperation domains” to enable innovation by reducing the requirements to form cross-domain interactions

Why does it seem that there is a fundamental contradiction between the smart grid and new technology?

When integration and interoperation are the biggest challenge, then diversity is the biggest controllable expense, and technical innovation is the biggest controllable risk; it is most easily controlled by preventing the introduction of either. The smart grid must introduce both.

The real question, if properly constructed, is not how we create The Smart Grid™, but how do we define Service Oriented Energy (SOE), of which the Service Oriented Grid is just one arranged subset. The SOG interacts with another entity, with quite different purposes, the Service Oriented Building, The SOB exposes some of its attributes and behaviors through SOE interfaces.

From this, we derived the existence of an Energy Services Interface (ESI). The ESI is the external face of any building or microgrid. What happens behind the ESI is of no concern to the grid other than how it effects how the node behind the ESI comes to market.

Can you really keep your mind on smart grid all the time?

No. During most of an excellent talk on new energy generation from FPL, I was thinking, “It won’t be carbon that destroys the biosphere, but alternative energy, specifically, through the slowing of the Gulf Stream by ocean current generation and slowing of the trade-winds by wind turbines…”

Article originally appeared on New Daedalus (http://www.newdaedalus.com/). 


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