The concept of a smart grid may have been born in the U.S.A., but it’s hitting an adolescent growth spurt just about everywhere else first. Meanwhile, in the U.S., both the regulators and companies that see great potential in a smarter grid are realizing that making substantial smart grid progress will first require making both people and policies smarter. There’s one exception, one piece of the smart grid, that could face fewer obstacles to adoption, and that’s because it offers more obvious and visible benefits to its users: electric vehicles (EVs).
Utilities have achieved success by supplying electricity from central station plants (the supply side) to a grid that carries electricity to customers (the demand side). One way to improve the efficiency of this supply chain is by adopting smart grid technology. The weak link in that chain is convincing customers to use, and regulators to invest in, the smart grid.
The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) has identified four breakthrough technologies and funded them through its Strategic Research and Development Portfolio. EPRI expects to accelerate development of these innovations because they are likely to have significant effects on how electricity is generated and delivered.
Experts have decried congressional and academic reliance on a mathematical model for understanding complex systems that suggests an attack on a small part of the U.S. power grid could disrupt the entire power system network.
Despite a trendy moniker and lots of hype and interest, the smart grid has been facing some major setbacks of late, as regulators and customers begin challenging some of the claims for what interconnected smart meters will deliver in the way of tangible benefits.
The University of California, San Diego (see “Smart Power Generation at UCSD”) is just one of many combined heat and power (CHP), or cogeneration, systems in the U.S. A 2008 report by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), “Combined Heat and Power: Effective Energy Solutions for a Sustainable Future,” notes that Texas has the most CHP capacity—much of it used by the petrochemical and petroleum refining industries. California ranks second, largely a result of “industrial demands, stringent air quality requirements, and effective policies that encourage adoption of CHP.”
The smart grid, a truly disruptive business force, will require a new regulatory paradigm and new approaches to the electric utility business model.
“Smart Power Generation at UCSD” explains how the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) is maximizing the value of combined heat and power. However, like any other grid-controlling entity large or small, the campus has to match generation and load. Its two Solar Turbines gas turbines operate in baseload mode 24/7 while the cogeneration side of the plant maximizes the value of “waste” heat and electricity that isn’t needed to serve immediate load by generating steam and chilled water for campus heating and cooling.
Presenters at the inaugural GridWise Global Forum in Washington, D.C., September 21 to 23 had a lot to say about the prospects for smarter grids. This synopsis of facts and opinions shared at the event, which attracted several smart grid A-listers, looks at the major challenges ahead, especially for the U.S.
The University of California, San Diego has been accumulating awards for its savvy use of a constellation of power generation and energy-saving technologies. The campus already controls a fully functioning microgrid—including a cogeneration plant—and, as befits a research institution, is constantly looking for new ways to make its energy system smarter. This “living laboratory,” as campus leaders like to call it, demonstrates what it takes to build a smarter grid and why the effort is worth it.