Smart Grid Calls for Smart Planning

Smart grids are being adopted by utilities across the globe for their multiple benefits. However, experts warn that utilities should first develop a clear vision and a sound technology strategy before deploying, as hasty decisions can lead to an unnecessary waste of funds.
Published: Wed 29 May 2013

Utilities worldwide are turning to the smart grid as it provides power quality for 21st century needs. Innovative smart grid and ICT technologies promise to enhance utility operations and services delivery. These include:

  • Grid self-healing from power system disturbances
  • Operates resiliently against physical and cyber attacks
  • Grid reliability
  • Helps to decrease power losses (technical and non-technical)
  • Improves revenue management
  • Optimization of asset and resource utilization and efficiency
  • Technology enabled data conversion into management information
  • Enables active customer participation and communication
  • Enables new products, services and markets
  • Enhances utility sustainability
  • Accommodates all generation and energy storage technologies

Although the smart grid offers a wide range of benefits to the customer, utility and environment, the grid could also cause major financial headaches if the right decisions are not made from the outset. Experts like Willem de Beer, South African Smart Grid Initiative (SASGI) Manager, South African National Energy Development Institute (SANEDI), warn utilities against making hasty decisions when selecting grid modernization partners and smart technology applications. Speaking at the African Utility Week 2013, he explains that African utilities need to be smarter about the way they approach the development of a smart grid as the smart grid is not only about the smart meter. There are many other factors and processes which are affected by the grid upgrade. Before the smart grid came about, utilities could assume that a technology decision would have a shelf-life of between 10-20 years. However, as innovative smart grid technologies are poised to improve utility operations and service delivery, there are major ramifications for product acquisition cycles.

Because of this complexity, he suggests that utilities take the following points in to consideration before making hasty deployment decisions:

  • Carry out a smart grid maturity assessment
  • Determine what the grid should be offering in the future
  • Devise a clear strategy and carefully choose relevant smart applications that will offer the best possible business results
  • Clear vision and technology strategy is required before making final decisions
  • Grid modernization partners (technology and support) must be elected carefully
  • Establish prudent project management principles in the strategy implementation and execution processes
  • Avoid technology dumping
  • Interoperability is critical to the smart grid’s success

As much as it is the utility’s responsibility to make the right decisions with regards to smart grid development, government also needs to step up to the plate. Research-and-development investment in technology-validation and -test standards must be put in place and although industry and government is always trying to find ways to cut financial corners, this is not the place. Without these standards, the opportunity to control smart grid-development costs through architectural and systems approaches could be wasted. Even worse, grid stability, reliability and safety could be jeopardized.

As Jesse Berst of Smart Grid News suggests: “Get the network right and you can build on top of it for years. Get it wrong and you may quickly hit a performance ceiling (as several utilities have done already), resulting in the need for a second network alongside your first one.”

Engerati Analysis 

Utilities around the world realize that grid modernization will not only shoulder tomorrow’s power demands but also today’s. This urgency is probably a major cause for hasty and unfounded decisions which cost utilities dearly. Often utilities choose technology which is not properly suited to the particular grid’s needs which leads utilities to believe that the devices themselves are at fault. It is therefore essential that utilities take the time to properly assess the area’s needs and budget before a final decision is made.

Sources

Smart Grid Library-Managing Utility Technology and Service Acquisitions in the Smart Grid Age [pdf]

Smart Grid News-Comparing communications technologies: The 6 most important questions(and where to get answers)

The Energy Collective-Why Smart Technology-testing Standards are critical