July 2010


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John D. McDonaldEMAIL INTERVIEW - John McDonald & Ken Sinclair

John D. McDonald, P.E. GE Energy, Digital Energy
Technical Strategy & Policy Development Director

John D. McDonald is the Technical Strategy & Policy Development Director for GE Energy's Digital Energy business.  The Digital Energy business provides integrated smart grid solutions and reliable power delivery systems to electric utility, oil & gas, critical infrastructure and industrial sectors. 

John has developed power application software for both Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA)/Energy Management System (EMS) and SCADA/Distribution Management System (DMS) applications, developed distribution automation and load management systems, managed SCADA/EMS and SCADA/DMS projects, and assisted Intelligent Electronic Device (IED) suppliers in the IED automation.  He has co-authored three books and teaches at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Iowa State University, and courses for various IEEE PES local chapters as an IEEE PES Distinguished Lecturer. John has published thirty-one technical papers.

Benefits of Smart Grid

To move ahead with smart grid, and realize any of its benefits, we must focus on consumer education, regulation and policy, and standards.

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Sinclair:  What are the main challenges we need to overcome to realize the full benefits of smart grid?

McDonald:  Two foundational technologies need to be in place for smart grid to work. First an underlying communication infrastructure needs to be in place. It’s the enabling technology that allows us to automate…to be able to automate, you have to communicate. Today’s communications infrastructure has pockets of old technology with limited bandwidth. Also important is an IT infrastructure: We have to get data from the operational side over to the IT side. Particular focus on distribution is needed –only 20 percent of the 48,000 distribution substations in the US are automated.

To move ahead with smart grid, and realize any of its benefits, we must focus on consumer education, regulation and policy, and standards.

Sinclair:  Why is consumer education so important and what is GE doing to help educate consumers?

McDonald:  Consumer education and engagement is a top priority for reaching a common understanding. Without consumer education, we cannot achieve consumer buy-in, and without consumer buy-in, we will not realize the full benefits of a smarter grid. We have already seen the effects of lack of consumer education in California.

GE works to educate consumers in a variety of ways:

  • http://itsyoursmartgrid.com/ was designed to give consumers a one-stop interactive resource where they can learn about smart grid and understand how they can be maximizing the solutions available.

  • GE has created a mobile, interactive smart grid video display to educate consumers. Its debut was at the GE shareholders meeting in Houston in April.

  • The Atlanta Smart Grid Center of Excellence will feature a customer showcase intended to teach visitors around the world the benefits of a smarter grid.

  • GE offers consumer outreach support to utilities by providing videos & messaging as well as other tools and assistance

  • GE commissions surveys and focus groups to stay abreast of the public’s perception of smart grid.

  • GE created a Smart Grid Wall, presenting in easy to understand terms the breadth of Smart Grid, from the power plant to the smart appliances. Its debut was at the DistribuTECH Conference in March in Tampa.

Sinclair:  What about regulation and policy? What would GE like to see done?

McDonald:  Federal lawmakers should establish national policies that provide utilities with clear, consistent and meaningful performance targets. These should include an energy efficiency resource standard, a peak demand reduction standard and a clean energy standard. In addition to federal legislation, regulators at both the state and federal levels must also adopt policies and mechanisms that provide the appropriate incentives for utility investments in smart grid technologies. These policies should address cost recovery, rate designs, wholesale market operations and investment planning processes.

[an error occurred while processing this directive] Sinclair:  Where are we in establishing standards around smart grid?

McDonald:  Established in late 2009, the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel (SGIP) is a public‐private partnership dedicated to the interoperability of Smart Grid devices and systems—from home appliances to transmission substations to wind farms and other bulk power generators. The SGIP does not develop interoperability standards. Rather, the SGIP acts as the central coordination point, providing guidance in identifying what work is needed and who should do it. The SGIP has several priority‐specific committees and working groups, including:

As Chair of the SGIP Governing Board, I can say that we have made great progress. We have identified 16 existing standards that span from generation to the home – the full breadth of smart grid. We are currently working to educate electric utilities in understanding the value of these standards.

Sinclair:  What can GE offer as a smart grid solutions provider that others cannot?

McDonald:  GE’s greatest advantage - is its depth and breadth of smart grid products and expertise – from generation to the home - from wind turbines to smart meters and smart appliances. GE understands that smart grid solutions cannot be developed in “silos” and smart grid is much more than the installation of smart meters. Smart grid should be approached in a holistic fashion; pairing infrastructure with IT, communications, and automation technologies to deliver the greatest benefits.


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