Getting Trendy about the Smart Grid

Most of the time a trend or two should suffice, but when there is ten of them on the same subject, in this case the smart grid, maybe it’s something more or less than a trend, maybe just an interesting list of things to consider.

In any case a Pike Research report on the smart grid posits “Ten Trends to Watch in 2011 and Beyond.”

The 22-page report was written by Bob Gohn, a senior analyst, and Clint Wheelock, Pike’s managing director.

For the uninitiated, “smart grid” is the integration of new embedded computing and communications technologies into the fabric of the electric power network.

Pike says there are “dozens” of trends that bear watching, but the report identified 10 “that will be the most influential in the emerging smart grid sector.”Those are:

1.    Security will become the top smart grid concern. The discovery of Stuxnet worm in July pushed grid security out of the background. “If anyone in the smart grid community still has a sense of cyber security peace and serenity after the summer of 2010, they need to check their pulse,” the report says.

2.    Distribution automation (DA) will rival advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) as the most visible smart grid application. Smart grid is not interchangeable with smart metering, Pike says, and “this misinterpretation has also been adopted by many in the industry since advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) has captured the most mindshare within the smart grid discussion. Yet, this emphasis is changing as distribution automation, spurred by the threat and opportunity of plug-in electric vehicles and distributed generation (DG), moves from the “toy” stage to the earliest phases of actual commercial adoption.”

3.    The “Bakersfield Effect” will continue, but some consumers will actually come to like the smart grid. The expression refers to the birthplace of the consumer pushback on smart meters, blamed for the dramatically higher electricity bills experienced by Pacific Gas & Electric customers in the summer of 2009.

4.    Smart meter and AMI focus will shift toward Europe and China. “Although Europe got an early start in deploying smart meters, most of the recent attention has been on North America, with Texas, California, and Ontario leading the way. In 2011, attention will begin to shift back toward Europe as major programs in the United Kingdom, France, and Spain, totaling about 100 million meters in aggregate, move toward deployment.” As large as those plans in Europe are, China likely will dwarf them with its plans for deploying more than 700 million smart meters across China by 2020.

5.    The “Year of the Han (built-in home area network)” will not arrive … yet. “As the first advanced smart meters with built-in home area network (HAN) interfaces were installed 2 to 3 years ago, visions of a robust in-home device market, including displays, thermostats, and smart appliances, took hold.” This has not happened, nor is it likely to in the near future, the report says.

6.    The demand response (DR) business transformation will accelerate. Pike says DR will become an application within a company’s broader energy management platform, much like PDAs and cell phones are no longer separate devices.

7.    The ARRA smart grid “stimulus” will finally have a positive impact. “The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009 included two major components aimed at accelerating smart grid deployment: $3.4 billion for the Smart Grid Investment Grant (SGIG) program and $615 million for smart grid demonstration projects. As might have been expected, the road from idea to implementation has been full of unexpected detours, with many in the industry wondering how much this plan for massive spending actually helped.” Pike says 2011 and 2012 “are shaping up to finally realize the acceleration promised by the SGIG program.”

8.    The standards horse will begin to catch the development cart. The problem has been that deployments proceed before good standards are fully defined. But the report says that smart grid standards are beginning to catch up to deployments.

9.    Data management will be the next bottleneck to smart grid benefits. The challenge of deriving useful information from the tons of data suddenly available when meters can be read every 15 minutes, rather once a month or so, will be daunting.

10. Existing data and telecom vendors will get serious about the smart grid. Next year, the “rubber should meet the road for these vendors.” Well, Pike needed another trend to make it an even ten.

Are we at last seeing the maturation of the smart grid? Let’s get past the trials, mandates and pilot project phases and into actual production deployment before getting too excited. Maybe one trend worth hanging onto is that the smart grid’s reality is coming into clearer focus.

writer, editor, reader and general good (ok mostly good, well sometimes good) guy trying to get by

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