Friday, 3 February 2012

Cost of Smart Meter FUD Established in California

It is well established through many examples that fear, uncertainty, doubt (FUD) and ignorance has a real cost in terms of time, money, relationships, and other aspects of everyday life.  One great example that society dealt with for years was the idea that using seat belts would cause you greater injury than not using them. Thousands of people died during the period that this FUD was being spread. While the current FUD on smart metering does not rise to this level, it is based on the same kind of “scientific” foundation as the seat belt myths. The recent compromise decision by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) regarding PG&E's opt out program establishes a very specific cost for Smart Meter FUD - $75 up front and $10 a month.

The good news about this decision is that it puts the direct cost of FUD and ignorance directly on those who could otherwise mitigate it.  They have the option to learn and overcome their FUD at any time.  It still seems unfortunate that some will spend more time, money and energy complaining about a situation they don't understand rather than taking the time to learn about it from authoritative sources. This is the same kind of enforcement that seat belt laws and tickets were enacted to address.

We can't just blame those who are expressing Smart Meter FUD however.  Our industry does have a responsibility to proactively make authoritative information on new technology readily available to the consumers who will use it and in an easy to understand form.  Information on new technology needs to clearly articulate the fundamentals of the technology itself, how it compares to older technology, how the technology compares to similar things in other industries, places or situations, what the tangible and intangible benefits are, what the downside is and how those negatives relate to other situations we find ourselves in on a regular basic.  None of the key players with the requisite knowledge in our industry have done a good job in this arena  - regulators, utilities, vendors, consultants, etc. - let alone in the education system.

Another issue is related to how we respond to those who do exhibit FUD.  How far do we go allowing a problem to persist that is readily solved by education and instead coddle those who express FUD?  That is a societal question but my common sense tells me that we should avoid coddling as much as possible.   Here are some questions I came up with to explore this aspect:
  1. Can I opt out of receiving public water because I hear it might contain small but legal amounts of carcinogenic substances and instead require the water company to deliver bottled water to my home?
  2. Can I demand that cell phone makers provide an analog rotary dial on cell phones because I believe that pressing digital buttons causes arthritis (I read it on the Internet so it must be true)?
  3. Can I opt out of being exposed to television signals and choose to have the entertainers come to my house and perform in person?
  4. Can I opt out of receiving my phone calls by cellular signal and choose to have a long wire run to my mobile phone with a crew following me everywhere with a spool of wire?
  5. Can I opt out of breathing public California air because it sometimes looks or smells bad?  The option is to mandate the creation of a new California Department of Air Supply to deliver canned air to my home.  It would of course be a precisely regulated mix of oxygen/nitrogen with elaborate testing, certification, and penalties for non-compliance - and a department to run it - and a new tax to pay for that!
  6. Can I opt out of stopping at traffic lights because I hear the color red might cause a seizure or require that stop lights I might be near use orange instead of red?

I hope regulators don't go too far in forcing regulated entities to coddle consumers who have a fear of technology change.  The business case tells us that it may be cheaper to coddle a few than fight it on principle.  This may be a slippery slope however and doesn't bode well for the prospects of instead focusing on improving education in science and technology to not only make it easier to live in an increasingly technology driven world but to actually contribute to advancing technology forward for the betterment of us all.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Smart Grid Workforce Strategy

There are many issues surrounding preparing the workforce to support smart grid application deployment.   One of those issues is related to the changing needs of the field workforce to support the merger of electrical apparatus infrastructure with communications infrastructure.  This includes new training for lineman as well as finding a role for meter readers in those utility territories where automated meter reading is being deployed.  I have seen a lot of discussion around these issues and there are many non degree education programs sprouting up that focus on this need (see the list at  In this post, I want to focus more on the changing requirements for electric power engineer skills in a smart grid world.

Traditionally, engineering schools that have an electric power concentration option have focused on a standardized set of basic electric power engineering disciplines and the supporting mathematics.  Typical topics include basic steady state electric power theory, transmission line characteristics, symmetrical components, load flow, short circuit and stability analysis, power generation and control, transient analysis, electromagnetic fields, power electronics and several others.   We have been turning out electric power engineers with these core disciplines for decades.  Recently there has been a trend in universities to encourage engineers to go beyond the masters program and seek a doctorate in a narrow discipline of electric power engineering.   From my point of view as an employer of electric power engineers, this has resulted in an ever decreasing pool of engineers with broad interest that normally come out of a masters level program.  Unfortunately, this is exactly the type of engineer we need to address the extreme breadth of engineering challenges related to grid modernization.  For example, I can't really use an engineer that has spent the past 2-3 years in a PhD program drilling down into the nuances of how to optimize one specific issue related to a snubber circuit in a power electronic front end for a specific type of power electronic inverter.

So what skills do we really need in a smart grid engineer?  I would argue that to answer that question we look at the various disciplines that are implied in various definitions of the smart grid.  The starting point I use is the list of smart grid functions in the US EISA 2007 legislation:

  • Ability to store, send and receive digital information through a combination of devices
  • Ability to do same to or from a computer or control device
  • Ability to measure and monitor as a function of time of day, power quality, source and type of generation, etc
  • Ability to sense disruptions in power flows and communicate on such instantaneously
  • Ability to detect, respond to, recover, etc relative to security threats
  • Ability of appliances and equipment to respond without human intervention
  • Ability to use digital information for grid operations that were previously electromechanical or manual
  • Ability to use digital controls to manage demand, congestion, and provide ancillary services

These functions are not unique to the US definition of smart grid - they are consistent with applications that define grid modernization and hence the smart grid around the world.  These functions do imply disciplines that are not normally found in the electric power engineering workforce - some of which I highlighted in the list above.  If I summarize these into categories of skills for a Smart Grid Engineer, I come up with 8 areas of concentration:

  • Basic electrical and electric power engineering
  • Communications
  • Distributed Computing / Intelligence / Complex Systems
  • Security
  • Systems of Systems Engineering
  • Enterprise Architecture
  • Business, Economics, and Regulation
  • Enhanced People Skills

I have this advice for electric power engineering educators - develop in your students a holistic view and understanding of the power system; build a solid foundation in power systems behavior in steady state and transient domains; collaborate with other university departments including CompSci, systems, electronics, and business management; avoid creating "siloed" professionals; apply systems engineering discipline everywhere; keep your eyes open - don't reinvent - be aware of and utilize industry resources; listen carefully to overall industry needs - not just the noisiest or the biggest funder.  For engineering students and current engineering practitioners I would suggest: thinking globally in systems of systems terms - systems engineering disciple is critical to your success; everything matters - thoroughly understand the power system, thoroughly discover and understand the system requirements, and evaluate device and system interactions; manage technology change; appreciate and understand the business case; build in metrics in your designs that can be captured to monitor technical and business performance; keep your eyes open - don't reinvent - collaborate instead; and engage in continuous learning and self improvement.

A longer version of this post is scheduled to appear in an upcoming issue of Power Grid International.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Chris Knudsen to leave PG&E

The utility industry is losing one of our best thought leaders in grid modernization - at least for the time being.  Chris came to the utility industry and PG&E with a background in communications, business and venture capital - not your standard utility guy pedigree.  With that background came a unique skill set and view of infrastructure that truly helped the industry foster new ideas on how we need to apply advanced communications, sensing and control technologies to modernize and extract more value from electric power infrastructure.  Chris has been a leader in developing utility technology development laboratories within the utility to ensure that he and his team were in a position to understand all of the technology they are considering for grid modernization and consumer empowerment.  Most other industries do this as a matter of doing business but utilities have been notoriously behind the curve in this regard.  Utilities have often relied upon vendors to tell them what they need rather than utilities developing the necessary requirements and technology understanding to more directly specify what they need.  Several utilities under the leadership of key thought leaders like Chris have managed to turn this trend around in recent years.  Southern California Edison (SCE) was probably the first and Chris the most recent.

As I write this is occurs to me that it is striking that several of our most influential thought leaders have left or about to leave their respective utilities - Paul De Martini (SCE), Wayne Longcore (Consumers Energy), Brent Hodges (Reliant Energy), Scott Blackburn (FPL) and now Chris Knudsen.  I sure hope this is not a trend indicating that that dynamic, bright, and well spoken individuals are not able to accomplish their business and professional objectives in a utility environment - that would be most unfortunate.  We need leaders such as Chris and the others I mentioned to help us transform our industry in all aspects necessary to ensure that we modernize our aging infrastructure.  We need that transformation to occur before it begins to fail more often and in time to support new energy sources before energy prices skyrocket due to neglect and expensive last minute fixes.

I have had the pleasure to work with Chris Knudsen for a couple of years now in several roles - I turned over the reins of the chairmanship of OpenSG group under the UCAIug to Chris and have worked with him closely as secretary to move that organization forward under his leadership.  I have also had the pleasure to work for Chris as a contractor to provide PG&E engineering services developing an enterprise architecture framework and approach to support smart grid application evolution.  I am pleased to learn that Chris will be continuing in his OpenSG chairman role and I wish him all the best in his future endeavors.  I hope we see him in another role in our industry where his intellect, experience, and leadership can be best utilized.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Wayne Longcore leaving Consumers Energy for SAP

I serve with Wayne on the DOE GridWise Architecture Council and on the UCA International Users Group board of directors. I work with Wayne closely in his role as member of the SGIP Governing Board and mine as an ex-officio member of the board as the NIST funded administrator for the SGIP. Wayne is also a long time client – having found me several years ago when looking for a consultant to help him in the early days of Consumers Energy's AMI program. Like Paul De Martini at Southern California Edison not long before, Wayne took a chance on a small company called EnerNex to apply the then new fangled discipline of use case based requirements development and systems of systems engineering (the EPRI IntelliGrid Methodology) at Consumers Energy. Wayne is one of the smartest guys I know and it has been a privilege working with him on all of these endeavors. He may be even a little more ADD than I am! Tonight on the eve of Consumers Energy hosting the DOE GridWise Architecture Council meeting in Jackson, Michigan, we are having a party with a who's who of smart grid to celebrate his accomplishments during his time at Consumers Energy and postulating the new challenges ahead of him at SAP. I am sure that he will continue to have a significant impact on our industry since I know he will continue to hold many of these industry volunteer positions after his move to SAP. I am confident that SAP will have the same foresight that Consumer's Energy had to fully support Wayne in these activities due to their intrinsic value to the company and to the industry as a whole. Congratulations to Wayne on his new adventure!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Jackson, MI

Monday, 28 March 2011

Is a wired meter solution feasible for selected PG&E customers?

There has been a lot of discussion in recent days over PG&E's response to a CPUC order to allow consumers to opt out of using wireless metering.  The remaining options involve going back to human based meter reading with all of its historical issues of cost and potential for incorrect or missed reads as well as the worker safety issue.  Another option floated is to use a wired option.  Of course a wired option (low speed Power Line Carrier - PLC) is what PG&E initially proposed prior to their wireless solution but that technology proved to be incapable of meeting the applications requirements necessary to support regulatory policy objectives (e.g. secure firmware update capability,  large payload delivery for pervasive consumer targeted demand response program deployment, distribution management applications, etc.).  PG&E correctly points out that integrating a nearly obsolete PLC based wired option with a modern wireless infrastructure would be costly since it requires equipment at each substation even if only one customer was served.  

Piggy backing on other wired infrastructure is equally problematic.  Plain Old Telephone System (POTS) connections are very difficult to scale.  They work well for low volume commercial and industrial applications, but the software applications that manage those systems are designed for relatively small numbers of meters and difficult to scale.  Also, POTS is a dying technology – being replaced rapidly by cellular wireless phones in dramatically increasing numbers – technology which has far higher RF emissions than a radio connected electric or gas meter.  POTS physical infrastructure is also the delivery mechanism used for DSL Internet access – a much more robust use of POTS infrastructure with high bandwidth.  Using it or other wired broadband connection (cable TV) would require meters that support that technology which presently are not readily available for residential applications.  Even if that hurdle were solved, the cost of those interfaces would be significantly higher than other communications interface technologies.  Even if the cost issue could be addressed, there is a problem with the utility ceding responsibility for managing their meter data collection network to a third party (a broadband internet provider).  Regulations, technical standards,  security and policies would have to be established to allow a third party to take responsibility for that traffic being carried over the Internet rather than over a secure connection.  Some would argue that the utility already uses public infrastructure for backhaul purposes, but these connections have well established Service Level Agreements (SLA's), aggregate data from many meters, and are secured at the aggregating access point interface.

As is usually the case, a simple, one size fits all answer is not feasible.  Systems that must scale to millions of devices such as a metering network must be designed using a disciplined, systems engineering based process that takes into account numerous interactions.  Unfortunately most people – even many very good engineers – are not systems thinkers and tend to promote siloed solutions without thinking through all of the ripple effects of other system interactions let alone the business, security, and policy implications – let alone analyzing all of that across the additional dimension of time for complete system lifecycle management.  Large systems work best when they use homogeneous, standards based technologies that can be readily duplicated with few if any special cases or human interactions.  Special cases of course will always exist – but they have a cost.  And that cost can't be compared to how things may have been done in the past since the systems that allowed the old technology to scale are no longer available.

For all of these reasons, I think PG&E has made a reasonable response – at least technically.  I don't have enough information to comment on the details of the cost of managing the exceptions but based on my experience in managing other projects involving data gathering and special exception handling, the cost multipliers seem to be at least in the ballpark.  Special handling is always expensive.  Think about the multiplier associated with making an operator assisted or collect call – it is much more expensive to handle than the fully automated approach using the best available technology.

Thursday, 2 December 2010


I am sitting in a dinner presentation by Chris Allen at the #GridInterop conference on applying biomimicry concepts to the smart grid. I asked him the following question:

3.8 billion years of evolution have resulted in the first species - Homo Sapiens - that can alter their environment on a large scale to suit individual, local community, and global requirements and goals. How do you reconcile this highly evolved adaptation that allows us to manipulate our environment with mimicking what nature has done previously to simply coexist with and exploit an unaltered environment.

The response was to consider whether we are an invasive species. Highly optimized but destined to die out. The same might be true for some smart grid technologies and standards. Highly advanced but not necessarily in the best interest of the grid in the long term.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:N River Rd,Des Plaines,United States

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Smart Grid - The Convergence of Low Tech and Hi Tech in Power Systems

The need to move from the grid as we have known it for the last 100 years or so to what we have been calling the smart grid can be characterized in many ways.  One of those characterizations is that we are merging old, brute stupid, low technology with new, super whiz bang computer driven high technology.  One of the problems with this characterizations is that it considers technology that is mature, works with high reliability, and is therefore almost invisible to the everyday person is somehow low technology.  In fact, the “traditional” electric power infrastructure is extremely high technology in almost every sense of the word.  We generate, transmit, distribute, and utilize massive amounts of energy at high efficiency through the application of fundamental, yet extremely complex laws of physics that engineers have harnessed in elegant and easily implemented ways over the past 100 years.  There is an extremely small community of engineers who understand the fundamental electromagnetic field theory, control theory, and other physics, engineering, and mathematical disciplines that are the foundation of how generators, transformers, transmission lines, breakers, vacuum switches, and other power systems equipment operate.  This technology is so hi tech and well optimized that it only appears to be low tech.

What we should be focused on is how we manage the integration of the stable, mature, highly optimized, slow changing technologies that constitute the existing grid with the new, more volatile, fast changing technologies in the communications, computing, command, and control arena.  Both classes of technology are high tech, but they have different maturity levels, technology change time constants, and roles in a business case.  In today’s world of emerging smart grid applications, we are looking for new and innovative ways to utilize the high technology embedded in our classic power systems infrastructure to support these new applications with the assistance of emerging advanced communications and computing technology.  Once we realize this, we can apply systems engineering and engineering economics discipline to develop a strategy for merging these two forms of technology to meet the technical, environmental, social, and business requirements associated with smart grid applications.  To do this, we need new business models in utility infrastructure companies be they generation, transmission, distribution, or consumer services companies.  No longer can we maintain the silo based approach of managing the business.  The engineering and business optimizations must occur across traditional organizational silos and the architecture of the systems implementing smart grid applications must use techniques that manage technology change that occurs at different rates in these systems.

The basics of an integrated, multiple technology, systems-of-systems engineering approach was first proposed by the participants and developers in EPRI’s IntelliGrid program (and its predecessor – CEIDS/IECSA) started in the early 2000’s time frame.  This approach has been slowly gaining momentum with notable large scale applications of the methodology such as Southern California Edison’s AMI and smart grid projects.  Since then, these concepts have found their way into the foundational principles of other utility projects and national efforts such as the NIST Smart Grid Roadmap and the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel (SGIP).

The IEEE is playing a significant role in facilitating this change of approach through the application of the NIST Conceptual model in the IEEE Smart Grid Portal, by coordinating the work of all societies in smart grid through a formal coordination process, and via coordination of smart grid standards activity within the Power and Energy Society through its Intelligent Grid Coordinating Committee.  We have a lot of work ahead to implement new thinking, new business models, and attract new engineers with new ideas into the smart grid world, but I am optimistic that we have a good technical foundation in place to leverage current regulatory policy and political drivers and foster exponential progress in the years to come.