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Cisco Sees Sensing and Automated Response as Key Benefits

The networking technology giant believes that digital communications will best be integrated into the existing electric delivery system by means of a highly secure, open-standards-based Internet Protocol platform.

There is a transformation taking place in the energy industry today that has fast become a global movement, which involves redefining how the world generates, distributes, and consumes energy, and changing our lifestyles to benefit the environment. As part of this transformation, energy will no longer be seen simply as a flow of electrons but rather as data as well; data that can be transported, manipulated, altered, and leveraged, as required, to improve the functioning of the entire grid.

At the core of this transformation is the smart grid. Its creation involves the integration of modern information technology with power transmission and distribution systems, to foster innovation and make the delivery of electricity more secure, efficient, and reliable.

Cisco's approach to the smart grid, according to Paul De Martini, the company’s Vice President and Chief Technology Officer for the Smart Grid, is to develop and sell products to support a highly secure, open-standards-based IP platform. As digital networking, communications, and processing technologies are integrated into the mostly analog power grid, systems will become—among other things, more:

  • Observable — full determination of grid state, deep situational awareness
  • Controllable — ability to carry out necessary actions across the grid
  • Automated — rapid adaptation to changing conditions with minimal human supervision
  • Integrated — connection of previously segregated utility systems and processes to fully realize business benefits

The benefits of a digital communications superstructure cannot be understated and include:

  • Distributed Generation — Consumers and businesses will be able to generate their own energy and sell the excess back into the power grid. There will be increasing reliance on distributed generation as stakeholders and investors seek to avoid the complexities of building new transmission lines.
  • Distributed Intelligence — Digital data acquisition, processing, and control will be implemented throughout the power grid to address issues of complexity, latency, and robustness. As an enabler of innovative scalable systems, distributed intelligence will support integration of renewable generation, enhance efficiency, reduce losses, and improve operations.
  • Demand Response — Prompted by price changes or incentive payments communicated through newly integrated digital systems, consumers will change their behavior to reduce energy consumption. The effects will be to better match energy supply with demand, level demand peaks, obviate the need for some peaking generators, and avoid blackouts.
  • Innovation — An open-standards and IP-based smart grid that integrates distributed intelligence will accelerate innovation, create jobs, boost the global standard of living, and help drive sustainable growth.

With innovation comes the responsibility to ensure it enhances what currently exists, rather than increasing or exposing vulnerabilities. And with the addition of millions of intelligent devices onto the grid, security becomes a challenge. Because of the critical nature of the technology and the services it provides, the grid is a prime target for acts of terrorism; therefore, the transformation of traditional energy networks to smart grids requires an intrinsic and thorough security strategy to safeguard this critical infrastructure. That said, innovative utilities will not wait until regulations and standards are finalized to begin risk-based threat assessments; they will make development of the secure architectures and mitigation planning a top priority.

The development of a Smart Grid will be a journey that will likely take twenty years or more, with key policy, technology, and economic milestones along the way. To accelerate the development, policies everywhere in the world will need to encourage open standards and innovation, balancing the need for acceleration with realistic assessment of how quickly key technologies can mature.

Todd Gurela, Cisco's Director of Global Smart Grid Sales believes that if such policies are combined with aggressive innovation, the result will be an energy revolution.


  • Lee StognerLee Stogner is the Managing Principal of the Vincula Group, a consultancy business in energy, systems integration and project management. He is chairman of the South Carolina Engineering Cluster and a member of the IEEE Board of Directors. He participates in the IEEE Smart Grid Initiative, the IEEE Energy Policy Committee, and the IEEE Electric Vehicle Committee.

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About the Smart Grid Newsletter

A monthly publication, the IEEE Smart Grid Newsletter features practical and timely technical information and forward-looking commentary on smart grid developments and deployments around the world. Designed to foster greater understanding and collaboration between diverse stakeholders, the newsletter brings together experts, thought-leaders, and decision-makers to exchange information and discuss issues affecting the evolution of the smart grid.


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Lee StognerLee Stogner is the Managing Principal of the Vincula Group, a consultancy business in energy, systems integration and project management. He is ... Read more