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 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/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 http://m.youtube.com/#/watch?xl=xl_blazer&v=zB4-mBQPd7k.

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 (http://www.dundee.ac.uk/) 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 (http://www.edinburghcastle.gov.uk/).  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 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fTMgXhnjiuQ&sns=em.

On Wednesday I participated on a panel of experts at the Scottish Low Carbon Investment Conference (http://www.slciconference.com/) 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 (http://www.kcl.ac.uk/, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King'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 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/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 (http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/120948.pdf).  This program is implemented by the Cultural Affairs Office and for me by their staff at the London Embassy (http://london.usembassy.gov/ukpa_cultural.html).  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 (http://uk.linkedin.com/in/katebentley), 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.