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IEEE: The expertise to make smart grid a reality

Bob Saint

Bob Saint discusses security and privacy, the effect of new policies, and what people should know about the Smart Grid.

Bob Saint discusses security and privacy, the effect of new policies, and what people should know about the Smart Grid.


Should consumers be concerned about security and privacy issues with respect to Smart Grid?

It's all about trust as far as I'm concerned. Utilities have always had access to information and usage information and personal type information from our customers, our members and we have done a good job of holding that information to ourselves and utilizing it for our needs but not letting the general public have access to it. And we're continuing that with automation with data flowing. We need to be concerned about security and privacy but if our members or customers have that trust that we’re doing the right thing, then they don’t need to be concerned.

What do you see is the killer app for the Smart Grid?

Automated meter reading is huge and that's why it has been implemented, so much by co-ops, and more than half of the co-ops right this minute have AMI systems in place and many are with full penetration. But there are different new technologies coming on and things like outage management, work force management are really gaining momentum. But this idea of a self-healing system and being able to detect problems in the system even before an outage may occur – that probably to me is the killer app. And we're right on the cusp of getting some new technologies in place and demonstrating some new technologies to be able to detect problems with this system before they cause outages and so we can address them and not affect the customer's use of power.

Policy and regulatory environments are drastically different from state to state and around the world, how do you think this will impact progression and evolution and the implementation of the Smart Grid?

Most co-ops are not regulated by the state commissions. About 80% of the co-ops are not regulated at all. They are regulated by the board of directors elected by the member consumers. So, that gives us a lot more freedom and lot more flexibility to do these innovative things without getting permission, if you will, from a regulator, although of course we have to get authorization from the board of directors and if they make bad decisions they don't get re-elected, so they try their best to make good decisions. But small companies, co-ops can be more flexible in that respect. And another added benefit, as far as the customer is concerned, is that we’re not concerned about making a profit. We are non-profit organizations. All the savings that occur with new technologies go right back to the consumer, and even if we do make a margin that eventually goes back to the consumer as well. So, the cost savings that we achieve with Smart Grid technologies goes right back to the customer. It doesn't go into the profits of the organization.

What's one message about Smart Grid would you want communicated?

Smart Grid has gotten a lot of publicity in the past and mostly negative publicity and it all goes back to the communication and basically the trust that the consumers have in their electric utility and so we need to do a better job or continue to do the job of communicating with our customers that the Smart Grid automating, obtaining more data, is a benefit for the utility and, therefore, the consumer. And we talk a lot about customer choice, it will allow more choices for the consumers. Whether they want to make that choice or not, they will have that choice available and maintaining the relationship with the utility if they want to and that's a choice as well, to let the utility continue to do the managing of the grid and maintaining the best way to operate the grid in the power flow, etc.