Why the next wave of smart grid is doomed to fail


By: SGN Staff


Quick Take:  As far as the smart grid has come in the last 10 years, it needs to go much further. According to the New York times, we have technology, the skills and even the money. What we lack is the ability to reach agreement. There are too many players with too many conflicting interests. - Jesse Berst


A recent article in the New York Times attempts to answer the sector's biggest conundrum. Most political leaders put grid modernization high on their list of must-do projects. Yet very little gets done. "For the most part, experts say the grid is not being changed, at least not on a scale big enough to make much difference."


The Times says the reason is balkanization. It reports that more than 500 owners have a stake in the transmission grid. As a result, a new plan to renew the Eastern Interconnection is unlikely to get anywhere.


The Eastern Interconnection is one of the three interconnections that together encompass Canada and the continental U.S. (see picture nearby). A new plan proposes a redesign to create a grid suitable for shipping bulk electricity across the country.


Yet the $16 million dollar planning effort is likely to be ignored, because none of the participants have the courage to fully endorse it or to recommend who should pay for it. "We said, ‘Here’s what we could do,' but we haven’t said how we would pay for it," one participant admitted to the Times. The study revealed that business-as-usual would require $18.5 billion in new transmission lines between 2010 and 2030. The new plan to accommodate renewables on a grand scaled would require $115 billion.


"It is just not going to happen, at least not any time soon,” said James J. Hoecker, a former member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. One problem is "resource nationalism.” Individual states want to use local resources, whether coal or wind, rather than importing from neighbors in a way that could be more economical.


Jesse Berst is the founder and Chief Analyst of SGN and Chairman of the Smart Cities Council, an industry coalition.