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.

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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.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Installed SmartMeters - A Living Lab and Educational Tool

Now that smart meters capable of interval metering are being widely deployed in many utilities, we have an incredible opportunity to use them as an educational tool to build awareness of the potential for smart metering, explain clearly and concretely new rate options, and help consumers discover the relationship between various load types and cost.

For years we have been relying on small pilots to gather this kind of information.  Various pundits, the press, regulators and stakeholders have been postulating and pontificating on the impact to the consumer of new rate options that take advantage of interval metering sometimes based on these pilots - or more often just based on their own world view regardless of that pesky data.  Now in areas where smart meters have been rolled out, we can present to the consumer what their bill (and carbon impact) would have been if they were on several different available or proposed rates.  Data can be presented to the customer on how others like them are faring, which rate types are working for them.  It will be refreshing to see the discussion of innovative rates that reflect the actual cost of energy based on actual, indisputable data so we can get beyond this game of pretending the statistics captured from pilots are not reliable or don't apply to some group.

An installed smart meter plant is therefore a brand new living laboratory on consumer energy consumption patterns and behaviours.  This laboratory can also be used to evaluate the viability of new end consumer enabling technologies to take advantage of a rate structure, evaluate the rate structure itself, evaluate the ability of a consumer to change energy behaviours and if that behaviour change is temporary or long lasting - all without the consumer, utility, or the regulator taking any real financial or political risk.  Most cool.  My only fear is that some of the factions out there find a way to turn even this capability to capture unambiguous, deterministic knowledge into something evil and continue to promote the head buried in the sand approach.


Saturday, 2 October 2010

Revisiting my Google Tech Talk on TCP/IP in Utility Networks

I am shamelessly posting this to begin building content for my new blog. Back in April 2010 I was invited by Vint Cerf ( to give a talk at Google HQ on the use of TCP/IP and other communication protocols in utility infrastructure. Google refers to these presentations from invited speakers as Google Tech Talks and they post them to YouTube in their entirety. If you have a spare 80 minutes, check out my talk at

Friday, 1 October 2010

London US Embassy Sponsored UK Speaking Tour

Back in July of this year, I was contacted by the cultural affairs office of the US Embassy in London with a request to participate in their US Speakers program.  The only condition was that I accept an all expenses paid trip to Scotland and London for a week and speak at a conference and some other venues.  Heck yeah! 

The week started out on Monday, September 27 with a reception in my honor at the US Consulate in Edinburgh Scotland - very humbling.  I had the privilege to meet many interesting people at this reception and through the week who are addressing a multitude of issues related to energy from technical, business, educational, and policy perspectives.  I learned that there is considerable controversy over the new transmission line required in Scotland to facilitate access to offshore renewable energy being constructed there.  It seems that many stakeholders have not realized that significant investment is needed in the grid itself in order to realize the benefits of renewable resources.  We had many discussions of this sort during the week.

On Tuesday, I gave a guest lecture on smart grid at Dundee University in Dundee Scotland ( to an audience of more than 120 students and faculty.  It turns out that I was the first guest lecturer in a series for a new masters program in environmental science where multiple disciplines are merged to address environmental issues from a systems of systems perspective.  This concept fit well with my lecture on smart grid where I stressed the importance of a systems engineering approach to grid modernization.  We had a great discussion on how a smarter grid is required to realize the full potential of new, innovative, and renewable energy sources.

Tuesday night I attended an amazing reception and dinner for the Scottish Low Carbon Investment Conference at the Edinburgh Castle (  It has to be the best business dinner I have ever attended - for both ambiance and food.  Totally immersed in centuries of history it was fascinating to think about what has occurred within the castle walls over all its history. They had a bagpipe band for entertainment in the Grand Hall where we had dinner. A short video I captured of them can be found at

On Wednesday I participated on a panel of experts at the Scottish Low Carbon Investment Conference ( on "smart investment opportunities for managing the mix of distributed generation."  Several core themes emerged from this panel; 1) stable regulatory policy is required before significant investment will be made in grid modernization and renewable generation deployment; 2) the availability of technology nor capital is not a limiting factor - the ability to articulate a clear business case within a well defined policy framework or roadmap is the gating factor; 3) significant investment must be made in transmission and distribution grids to ensure they have the capacity, manageability, and controlability to support non-traditional energy sources.

I travelled to London with my embassy sponsor Thursday morning to give a lecture at Kings College Strand Campus (,'s_College_London).  This was a smaller group with an even more varied background in environmental issues but the lecture seemed to have been very well received.  I even had the opportunity to discuss concerns over the upcoming increase in solar flare activity in the 11 year solar cycle (  They were fascinated to hear how the environment (in this case the sun) can have such a profound effect on the stability of electric power systems during solar events that cause geomagnetically induced currents in transmission lines and transformers.

I completed by speaking tour on Friday with two activities.  First I spent some time in the London US Embassy TV studio where I was interviewed for what will be one or more YouTube video's on the various topics I spoke and learned about during the week.  All of this activity was done as part of the US State Departments U.S. Speakers program (  This program is implemented by the Cultural Affairs Office and for me by their staff at the London Embassy (  As a taxpayer, it was impressive to see how seriously our diplomats take their responsibility to expose other countries to our culture and expertise from a variety of dimensions and points of view.

The final activity of the day and week was a lunch with several "alumni" of the embassy's cultural exchange program.  They included Dr. Andy Fraser, Head of Climate Change, Welsh Assembly Government; Dr. Jeff Hardy, Knowledge Exchange Manager for the UK Energy Research Centre; Ms Jill Osmond, Business Support Manager for the UK National Environment Transformation Fund and Low Carbon Investment Funding within the Department of Energy and Climate Change; Mr. Vishant Vaze, Chief Economist, Consumer Focus; and Mr. Simon James, Stakeholder and Government Relationships Manager for ESBI in Ireland.  This was a diverse group of very bright individuals that lead to some lively discussion on a variety of topics.  We had considerable discussion on the role of smart meters to support load shifting and other desirable consumer behaviors.  There seems to be considerable skepticism over whether smart meters are required to facilitate these policy goals.  I spent a lot of time talking about how diverse our business cases are for smart metering in the US - how a disciplined requirements development process is needed to ensure that technical, business, and policy requirements are mapped to the appropriate technologies needed to implement applications that meet those requirements.

Kate Bentley (, Deputy Cultural Affairs Officer, was my sponsor and guide this week.  She and her staff (especially Susan Wedlake) did an amazing job making the arrangements for my visit.  It was time well spent.