Grid Smartness

Smartness definitely comes from better suited, but not necessarily from more ICT

Most agree that electric grids must become smarter. But what does that mean? In public perception, Smart Grid is mainly associated with the “Smart Meter”.

A Smart Meter is an electronic replacement of electro-mechanical meters. Its main purpose is to give consumers more information on their energy consumption. Energy which is a commodity for most will become more visible, and electricity users may be converted into “real” and conscious consumers. Once this is reached, they may receive time variable tariffs to influence consumer behavior. Its second purpose is to give grid operators more information on what their customers do, which gives rise to data privacy concerns in many countries. The smart meter is not designed to increase flexibility directly. Instead, based on the information gathered, ideas would be developed on how to increase flexibility. Consequently Smart Grid can only be started after Smart Meter rollout. But do we have that much time, and is that the only way?

While Smart Grid 1.0 was based on the existing market design and looked into what could be learned by additional information supplied by Smart Meters, the experience gathered already shows that new approaches are needed, primarily for cost and security reasons.

Mr. Dubose [former chief of the US Justice Department's Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Division] said: "Government officials say there's plenty of evidence that hackers have made their way into the 200,000 miles of transmission lines that provide electricity to more than 300 million people.” Coral Davenport (2013): Why the Smart Grid Might Be a Dumb Idea, National Journal (27/06/2014)

Smart Grid 2.0 focusses on what is to be achieved, and how best to get there. The big discussion points currently are:

  • Continue with the central responsibility of a grid “master” that controls everything, or a mostly decentral structure like in the internet?
  • Rely on sufficient cost reductions of batteries in the future to provide the needed flexibility, or on decentral flexibility, or both?
  • How much ICT is needed to organize this critical infrastructure, what for and where?

Smart Grid 2.0 must aim for a fair balance for an up to 100% renewable energy supply between:

  • Performance (availability/security of supply, robustness against external impacts)
  • System cost (grid infrastructure, communication, end user equipment, control centers)
  • Infrastructure flexibility (ability to migrate and adapt the grid infrastructure over time)
  • Data protection, security (privacy, resilience against attacks)

Easy Smart Grid assumes the best approach to meet the Smart Grid 2.0 objectives will be

  • Cellular Grids: Mostly independent regional cells that exchange energy as needed (just as communication cells exchange information over the internet)
  • Real Time Markets: Balancing of generation and demand is done by variable prices within grid areas