Smart grid evolution: 2012 reactions, 2013 projections


By Megan Dean, Zpryme, Sr. Research Analyst

Megan Dean, Zpryme, Sr. Research Analyst

                               Top 10 Smart Grid Reactions

Several key takeaways can be garnered from observing the 2012 activities of smart grid organizations, which brought many advances to the worldwide smart grid.

10. Smart Grid Transformation to Smart Energy Paradigm

In 2012, the smart grid developed through an expansion of existing energy systems with a focus on distributed generation integration and next-generation energy systems.  Advances in technology were added to the existing infrastructure to deliver new benefits.  Advances in energy storage, microgrids, and renewable energy not only updated the electrical grid, but accelerated the transformation of the grid as evidenced by California's Solar Initiative and the California Public Utility's Commission influence on California's electric grid.  

9. Investigation of Energy Storage Technology

2012 brought several advancements in the energy storage field.  Argonne National Laboratory was chosen by the DOE to receive $120 million for R&D in advanced battery technologies. San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E) installed five batteries in 2012 to both provide power and support renewable energy generation in their networks.  In Africa, a hydrogen storage system was deployed to both store excess wind energy and illustrate the potential of the new technology.  Although energy storage is still in the very early stages of development, it was more fully investigated and deployed during 2012.

8. Increased Focus on Cybersecurity

The increased use of control, communication, and information technology in the energy field also brought increased security threats.  The cybersecurity threat is dynamic and changes as new technology is introduced and new capabilities are implemented.  The Department of Homeland Security reported a regular increase in cybersecurity threats in 2012.  In fact, a Zpryme and ViaSat cybersecurity survey found that nearly two out of three utilities in the US were 'very concerned' about security and network attacks.

7. Introduction of Pricing Options

The introduction of dynamic pricing and pricing options were a key focus of 2012.  Time of Use programs reduced overall energy usage by 2.5% and peak usage by 8.8% in the ESB Networks SM Customer-Behavior Trial.  Commonwealth Edison experienced up to a 20% decrease in demand when critical peak pricing and peak time rebates were offered to customers.  Trials such as these clearly illustrated that offering customers additional pricing programs not only allowed customers to better control demand, but also decreased energy usage and demand overall.

6. Focus on Innovation

Through the 1980s and 1990s, smart grid modernization efforts were driven by regulation and technology development, as well as increasing demand.  In 2012, smart grid innovation enabled such technology as GIS, OMS, and DMS.  Projects ranging from the Borrego Springs Microgrid to utilizing information derived by smart meters to better enable billing and customer information systems, to award-winning single phase metering and semiconductors brought the innovation focus to grid optimization and resiliency.

5. Adding Self-Healing Capabilities

Adding self-healing capabilities to the smart grid was a key focus in 2012. Arizona Public Service Co. implemented self-healing technology in two different distribution lines. Hydro-One utilized Trilliant's self-healing RF mesh architecture in one of the most comprehensive AMI deployments in North America.  ESB Networks Smart Green Circuits project reported, "A 'self-healing' circuit has operated successfully in over 12 separate incidents, with faulted sections isolated and supply recovered to remaining customers within seconds." Overall, adding self-healing capabilities proved to be very effective in adding reliability to the grid.

4. Collaboration Among Industry Leaders

2012 was a key year for collaboration between the leaders of different industries.  In January 2012, Brazil outlined the opportunity for collaboration between leaders of industry in their nation, such as those experienced in their Smart Grid Joint Strategic R&D Program, as well as their work with both the U.S. and the U.K.  Collaborations have been undertaken worldwide between utilities, private vendors, public vendors, governments (local, state, and federal), and universities.  Public-private partnerships were extremely successful in addressing the varied, complex challenges faced in creating a resilient and reliable grid worldwide in 2012.

3. Industry Consolidation

2012 was the year of mergers and acquisitions, creating a more consolidated energy market.  Eaton purchased Cooper Industries for $11.8 billion while Melrose purchased Elster for $2.3 billion.  Siemens purchased RuggedCom for $382 million while Blackstone purchased Vivint for $2 billion.  In the United States, two major mergers between Duke Energy and Progress Energy and Exelon Corporation and Constellation Energy Group, as well as the acquisition of GenOn Energy by NRG Energy dominated the market and transferred 107 GW of operating capacity.  The overall effect was a consolidation of the energy market with purchasing firms emerging stronger as they acquired innovative companies with fresh ideas and highly skilled workers.

2. Customer Education and Empowerment Programs

2012 brought increased focus to the necessity of customer education and empowerment programs, as stories such as Duke Energy's removal of a customer from the grid that refused to adopt a smart meter and a CenterPoint Energy customer pointing a gun at an employee attempting to install a smart meter on her premises have made national news.  These events clearly demonstrated the need for comprehensive customer education and empowerment programs that begin before rollouts and are based on feedback from key stakeholders, including customers.  Utilities that focused on empowering customers to make informed decisions about usage, conservation, and energy management experienced positive customer feedback and successful deployment efforts worldwide.

1. The Foundation has Been Built

Another key focus of 2012 was building a solid foundation for smart grid development and optimization.  Smart meter deployment has reached completion in many areas, from local areas such as the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) to countries such as Italy, which deployed over 30 million smart meters and reached almost 100% completion.  This foundation has created an environment where first generation technology was first deployed and then expanded incrementally.  The overall focus of 2012 was creating an innovative, connected, sustainable energy platform for the future.

Overall, different techniques were deployed in different locations around the world.  However, the collective results of individual projects during 2012 have created a wealth of best practices and case studies that utilities, vendors, and integrators as they work together to digitize electrical grids around the world.