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IEEE: The expertise to make smart grid a reality

Ganesh Kumar Venayagamoorthy

Ganesh Kumar Venayagamoorthy talks about his involvement with the smart grid, and how it will impact the United States in the future.

Ganesh Kumar Venayagamoorthy talks about his involvement with the smart grid, and how it will impact the United States in the future.


I’m a university professor. I’m also the Director of the Real Time Power & Intelligence Systems Laboratory at the Missouri University of Science & Technology. I founded this lab in 2004, a few years prior to when the Energy Independence and Security Act was released. I’m currently an editor of IEEE Transactions in Smart Grid. I lead the Intelligence Systems Subcommittee of the IEEE Power & The Energy Society. Recently, the IEEE Computational Intelligence Society launched a new task force on Smart Grid and I was appointed as the chair of that by the IEEE CIS.

So, my role is to direct research in my university and, of course, direct, guide, and help with these task forces, working groups. I also work with a number of students, graduate students, push the next frontiers in Smart Grid.

In my opinion, the Smart Grid is an electricity infrastructure built with advanced sensing and communication capabilities, mainly to allow for embedding of intelligence to enable bi-directional power flows between generation sources and smart devices in order to optimize a number of objectives.

And when I say generation sources, this includes traditional as well as the renewable sources and smart devices, traditional loads, the smart loads, like the electric vehicles and other things we are trying to optimize. When we talk about optimization, we are talking about minimizing the cost of energy to the end user and minimizing emissions, while simultaneously maximizing reliability and security of utility networks. I think the Smart Grid is the platform that will allow us to achieve these goals.

When I talk about embedded intelligence, I’m referring to intelligent systems. They are critical to achieve these objectives on a bi-directional platform like Smart Grid. Intelligence is the one thing that has computational modules and tools that will make the data that Smart Grid collects make sense. Communication enables utilities to make the right decisions and adaptations based on the data that is collected. These adaptations have to be made just in time and they have to be reliable and fault tolerant in order to keep Smart Grid in operation.

There are a number of innovations taking place in Smart Grid. We have Phasor Measurement Units that are being placed on the grid. What’s being done with the data that comes from the Phasor Measurement Units is where I’m seeing most innovation take place. Today, many algorithms are being developed to use the data that’s being collected to create situational awareness and wide-area monitoring systems. The next step will be to use these wide-area monitoring systems to implement wide-area control. One of the objectives of Smart Grid is to try to enable neighboring utilities’ networks to collaborate and take care of each other’s needs in real time.

In addition to the Phasor Measurement Units, we also have smart meters that are getting deployed. A lot of money has been spent on their deployment. Today, smart meters allow bi-directional communication. I expect the next thing they will make available is real-time pricing. This will help customers minimize their energy usage and their costs, and make the best use of the resources that we have on this planet.

I think the message consumers need to hear the most right now is one about the benefits of Smart Grid and what will it bring about. It’s all about awareness of why we are looking at changing our traditional grid to a Smart Grid. In my opinion, the benefits can be summarized as reduced cost of energy and reduced fossil fuel emissions, which will help protect the environment. It will be a long time before we can really quantify these benefits and say that here we have achieved them, but they are the end goals of Smart Grid. Overall, cheaper, cleaner, sustainable energy is the most important message that utilities need to communicate to consumers.

I think Smart Grid is going to create a whole new lifestyle for end users. It is in this new lifestyle that they will see the benefits and the value of Smart Grid. For example, today’s end users don’t know how much energy they consume when they roast a chicken. With Smart Grid deployed to their homes, they will be able see exactly how much energy it takes to roast a chicken, or leave the lights on. Today we pay for everything at the end of the month. We really don’t have a breakdown of how much our energy costs for each task. But with in-home energy management systems, we will be able to see everything. People who are really interested will be able to see what their energy usage is, and what they are using it to do.

We waste a lot of energy today. But with Smart Grid technology in our homes and at our disposal on our iPhones, we will be able to become very conscious and aware of what we use. I think this will mean that we will stop the unnecessary wasting of energy and reduce our consumption. We will be able to decrease the amount of energy we use when we really need it and become more conscious of our environment. We don’t want to create an environment that is problematic for our children. Smart Grid will help us achieve our goals of sustainable energy sources that protect the environment.

The United States is a big country compared to other countries. The North American electrical power grid is known as the single biggest machine ever built by man. It ranges 150,000 miles from Mexico and across the U.S. to Canada. It consists of three interconnected systems, the eastern, the western, and a system in Texas. The unique thing about Smart Grid’s landscape here in the United States is that it’s going to be a very complex system that will require a lot of pilot studies and demonstrations of smart micro grids.

While Smart Grid can be easily implemented in most other countries, utilities in the U.S. are dealing with a massive system that has a lot more complexities. For us, it’s going to be challenging, but there are going to be lots of opportunities as well. We have diverse sources of energy here, but they are all distributed. We will need distributed intelligence to handle this issue.

Innovation is very important and very necessary for Smart Grid. None of us claim to know everything about how to implement Smart Grid. It is a continuously evolving infrastructure. Today’s Smart Grid will be different in 10 years, and it will keep evolving. Innovation is needed to address whatever comes up as the challenges unfold during Smart Grid’s implementation.

The entrepreneurs will be where the innovation is. Their innovative ideas and contributions will be needed the most to help in the development of computational systems, because those systems are going to grow. With Smart Grid, we are talking about the marriage of the electrical infrastructure with the transportation infrastructure. Each is very complex on its own. So, we’re talking about a system of systems.

There will be other systems that become a part of Smart Grid in the future, too. This means that complexity will increase over time. In my opinion, we need ideas and contributions that will help us to handle all the systems involved. We also need tools to anticipate what’s going to happen. This is where computational methods and models come into play. The field of computational systems’ thinking will have a major role in creating ideas that we can use in this area.

In the short term, I think all the efforts that are going into the development of helping consumers understand Smart Grid will be directed towards educating them and making them aware of what their benefits will be. In five years, I think we will see more renewable sources of energy integrated into the grid. Today, when you go to Germany and you drive, you see wind farms. But you don’t see that many in the United States. But, I think in 5 to 10 years you will see a lot more wind farms here. You’ll also see solar farms and electric vehicles.

We have a mandate from the President to put one million electric vehicles on the road in the U.S. by 2015. I think we are going to see that happen. And I think we will see electric vehicles take off. The question now is whether or not we will have the infrastructure we need to support those electric vehicles in the short term. What’s the impact of those vehicles going to be on the grid in the short term, and, are we ready for that?

Over time, I think that challenges will pop up and solutions will always be found. In 20 to 25 years, I think most of us will be using clean energy and renewables like wind or solar. Most of us will be driving electric vehicles, too. In 20 to 30 years, I think renewables will be a part of our lives and be the main source of energy for electric vehicles and other forms of transportation.