David Sweet

As a result of recent economic stimulus investments directed at smart grid technology, there has been a great deal of action in terms of upgrading systems to include the information and communications networks that serve as the backbone of a smart grid. There is a great deal of talk and excitement about the promise of smart grid technology and the benefits it can deliver to utilities and their customers alike. These benefits include more efficient service, as loads can be better managed and adjusted in response to swings in supply and demand. There can also be substantial improvements in system reliability over the relatively dumb grid of today. For example, when there is an outage today there is not an alarm that automatically goes off alerting the grid operator that your power is out. Usually, someone needs to call the utility and inform them of the problem before it can be fixed.

Decentralized energy technology has a somewhat interesting relationship with the smart grid. On the one hand, decentralized energy can be considered a surrogate for the grid. In other words, by locating generation closer to the point of use we can deliver power without transmission lines. This leads to the hidden benefit of decentralized energy – power that can be delivered cheaper and more efficiently due to elimination of the capital cost of the grid as well as the grid losses from transmission across great distances. However, decentralized energy can also work in tandem with the grid and provide a more secure and reliable system by offering a diverse portfolio of generation assets that can be integrated with the centralized generation.

More interestingly, a smart grid can also serve as an enabler for the addition of decentralized generation into the grid, allowing these assets to be interconnected in a smooth and relatively seamless manner.

Just as the traditional grid can be considered somewhat dumb by comparison, decentralized generation can also be considered to be not the brightest bulb on the circuit, as intermittent renewables such as wind and solar need assistance from storage or quick start generation to compensate for their inability to provide steady service on a 24-7 basis. The imminent retirement of many older, coal-fired central power plants that will not be upgraded to meet emission standards opens the door for a new breed of smart generation assets that can provide efficient and scalable intermediate or baseload power, while at the same time offering the ability to quickly ramp up or down to allow for the introduction of more renewable generation.

WADE is working with its member companies to promote these smarter solutions that will ultimately lead to cleaner, more reliable and more efficient power networks as smart grid and smart generation technologies take root. Our affiliate organization, WADE Thailand, has a smart grid project under way that is pioneering the smart grid initiative for the country and examining the global best practices that can be deployed in the rapidly developing Thai economy.

WADE has also held programmes in Washington, DC to discuss these smarter alternatives with key policymakers at the national level. While it will take time, planning and capital investment, all in all, the smart money is on greater deployment of these smart grid and smart generation technologies on a global basis, so stay tuned.

David Sweet
Executive Director, WADE
dsweet@localpower.org

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