Reducing the Cost of Smart Grid Modernization Through Collaboration

Smart grid technology providers want to collaborate to accelerate and reduce the cost of smart grid modernisation.
Published: Tue 19 Apr 2016

A changing generation mix with distributed and renewable energy, the need for more resilience and security, growing supply and demand-side opportunities for customers to participate in electricity markets, the emergence of interconnected systems and control and ageing electricity infrastructure are all impacting the need for a smarter grid. [Modernizing the Power Grid].

This doesn’t come with a cheap price tag so it is a relief to hear that smart grid technology suppliers in the US want to help reduce grid modernisation costs.

A new survey of utilities, national laboratories, universities and technology solution providers in the US reveals that providers of smart grid technologies want to help reduce escalating grid modernisation costs.

Open to collaboration

The survey, carried out by the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel (SGIP), studied the various smart grid technologies currently under evaluation at many test beds. Results show that 91% of participants are open to collaboration with a wide variety of industry players, including vendors.

According to SGIP President and CEO Sharon Allan, smart grid test beds are critical resources that encourage the development and testing of various new grid technologies in a controlled and economic fashion. She explains, “They help us understand the interaction between emerging technologies and the grid of today. And, they minimize the risk of deploying new technology at scale by a utility or industry."

Smart grid labs and testing

Solar, storage and microgrids are getting the most test bed attention, according to the report, with activity at the responding labs reflecting industry trends related to distributed energy resources (DER). Over 58% of the labs responding to the survey are testing solar, inverters, energy storage or some combination of the three -- and 50% are doing so in a microgrid configuration.

The average age of labs responding is approximately six years, with utility and industry labs averaging less than three and a half years in action, indicating that smart grid labs and testing are accelerating. Many of the test beds have a focus on DER and microgrids, which have increased in focus with state renewable generation targets and the increased focus on resiliency post Superstorm Sandy.

Cybersecurity-still not a major focus

Unfortunately, SGIP picked up that there is still insufficient focus on cybersecurity. Despite the vulnerabilities presented by the addition of distributed energy resources to the grid, only 11 of the respondents said security was a primary focus of their research.

Electric vehicles didn't get much play with the test beds surveyed, either. The relatively low participation in EV testing may reflect the very high level of testing by industry players. EVs are under evaluation by numerous universities, as well as auto industry players like General Motors and technology companies such as Google and Apple.

SGIP hopes the survey results will encourage further collaboration in smart grid test bed activity.

Connecting industry and research

The transformation to the smarter grid is in full swing driven by powerful accelerators. Significant investments around the world are being made in its implementation. However, many obstacles have yet to be overcome in order to avoid a growing uncertainty around the benefits that the smart grid has to offer. These may have a negative effect on the smart grid’s long term success if not dealt with in time and at a faster pace.

This is why test beds are a great idea since they help the industry and national labs to increase cross connections between them, thereby gaining a better understanding of capabilities and risks-whether long term or short term. [Factors Slowing Smart Grid Development.]

Further reading

2015 North American Grid Modernization Test Bed Survey [pdf]