Smart Grid: Where Are We With This, Really?

Dec. 1, 2010
The energy-conservation movement revolves around everything from carbon footprint to the energy efficiency of comfort systems for the home and workplace.

The energy-conservation movement revolves around everything from carbon footprint to the energy efficiency of comfort systems for the home and workplace. It isn't only product-focused, but process-focused — from the types of raw materials used to build buildings, equipment, and tools to how waste is recycled and reused. And it includes the concept of a “smart grid” electrical-delivery system.

If you think about it, the idea behind a smart grid isn't energy conservation; it is avoiding the building of new power-generation plants.

Conversation on this topic covers the socioeconomic/political landscape, particularly in California, where the idea of building more power-generation facilities is unpopular to say the least.

Brain trusts around the country are wrestling with the idea of how to implement a smart grid. In the HVACR industry, the focus is on how a smart grid will impact the way we design, operate, and maintain buildings.

On Nov. 12 in Scottsdale, Ariz., Danfoss held “The Grid and Beyond,” the 14th event in its EnVisioneering Symposia Series. Thought leaders from the Electric Power Research Institute, North American Electric Reliability Corp., the Utilities Telecom Council (UTC), Southern California Edison, and Johnson Controls Inc. shared their thoughts on what the concept of a smart grid is shaping up to be and the potential it creates for the HVAC industry and society as a whole.

Not surprising, California seems to be leading the way, as utilities have begun rolling out smart meters that will enable the grid to communicate with appliances and systems in homes and commercial buildings.

In his opening comments, Mike Oldak, vice president and general manager of the UTC, said, “Smart grid isn't about energy conservation; it's about saving money,” recalling the days of long-distance telephone calling, when calls cost more during the day, leading many people to make their long-distance calls at night. For the grid, it's all about peak-use reductions, which, without the use of smart technology, account for a 15-percent savings. He said that with smart technology, peak-use reductions of 30 percent can be achieved.

The benefits? Obviously, deferred or avoided construction of new power plants, which gives utilities time to wait for cleaner generation technology. But there is a cost for this, and it can be billions of dollars. According to Oldak, the benefits outweigh the costs. He said future U.S. competitiveness depends on the current and future cost of electricity.

“Energy independence depends on the ability of our grid to efficiently meet the needs of the consuming public,” Oldak said.

There certainly are concerns about smart-grid technologies — chief among them: cyber security, reliability, lack of standards, and coordination/logistics.

According to the symposium presenters, much more work is needed. The key, Oldak said, is that whatever we, as a nation, decide to do today will directly impact our nation's power infrastructure in the future.

There is much more information on this topic to be shared. Stay tuned to HPAC Engineering and to learn more. The bottom line is that the time for talking is waning, and the time for action is at hand. What are your thoughts on the smart-grid concept, and where do you see it going?

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