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IEEE: The expertise to make smart grid a reality

Interview with Lina Bertling

Lina Bertling has been nominated as Treasurer of IEEE Power & Energy Society 2012/2013. She holds the Chair of Professor in Sustainable Electric Power Systems and is the Head of the Division of Electric Power Engineering, at the Department of Energy and Environment, at Chalmers University of Technology, in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Lina Bertling sheds light on the critical need for Smart Grid's developers to embrace flexibility and think about what Smart Grid will look like tomorrow as they develop and implement it today.

Question: What role does the IEEE play in Smart Grid on a global basis?

I think the IEEE plays a crucial role in Smart Grid. The IEEE has a very large network, I think it’s stated that it has the largest professional technical network in the world, and it is also connected to many different societies. I think IEEE can really take a leadership position and it is important that they are doing so.

Question: Smart Grid means different things to different people. So how would you define Smart Grid?

Defining Smart Grid is very challenging. When I talk about Smart Grid, I start with the driving forces and why we are doing it. The main driver behind Smart Grid is to obtain a sustainable, and by that I mean renewable, energy system. It also is being done to promote beneficial economic development. These are the starting points, but there are many other points of consideration.

These include:

  • Providing more, mostly wind-powered, electrical, renewable energy resources. We also see solar and waves in the future.
  • The transportation sector, where we will try to move to more environmentally friendly electrical resources. This will involve people changing their behaviors, so it is a big issue.
  • Technology development being done in more general areas in which I see power and electronics creating many different solutions. I also want to stress here that we are coming to a time when we make use of the High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC).
  • Today's grid system will move beyond a point-to-point architecture and into a grid system that connects both DC and AC. This is a new feature.
  • Customer issues, which involve turning end users into 'functional' energy producers. This is something we have not had before. Because these customers will be more actively involved in the process, there will be more information. This is where meters come in.
  • In addition to technology, people who have used energy for more than 15 years are aging and retiring and younger people who are ready to use and purchase energy in new ways are buying cars and homes. I think this is a natural change that parallels the aging of our energy systems and coincides with the time to change them out for new ones. This provides us with a lot of possibilities for Smart Grid.

Question: What kinds of Smart Grid successes, innovations or trials are you seeing in Europe?

In both Germany and Sweden we have a long history as cultures involved in automobile manufacturing. So we are quite far ahead in this area. I just took part in an 18-month project that we finished a few weeks ago called Grid for Vehicles (G4V), and there is another parallell project continuting until next year called MERGE. G4V studied what will happen with the power grid if we have a massive introduction of electric cars and identified whether or not there is an interest in this new business area – and the answer was, yes.

If you look elsewhere in Europe, you will see many people focusing on the development of offshore wind farms, especially outside the United Kingdom. And meters are installed throughout Europe, but most have been installed for a long time so they are not smart meters, which is another important issue. In the broader perspective, these are issues you can see just about everywhere today.

Question: With regard to meters, to what extent is Smart Grid ready to be implemented now or is it going to take quite a while for it to evolve?

There is a mixture of different issues concerning evolution. One key issue is standards. We need standards to communicate between stations in order for things to continue to develop.

You also have to test ideas and that is why demonstration projects are very important when it comes to taking the next step. Because our energy systems sustain our lives, we cannot just put things onto the grid without testing them first. So, what we need is more standards development and communication between stations and their components.

Another important issue is that we have to think in different perspectives relative to the time it takes to build the infrastructure to support some of these solutions. For example, it might not take long to build the initial energy generation system such as a wind farm, but it will take longer to build out the transmission and distribution side. One must consider the total time it will take and where a solution will be built and consider the need for redundancy. I think the key issue will be providing flexibility in the transmission and distribution systems so you don’t have to over invest in a solution to make it flexible.

Question: Are the demonstration projects and trials producing any interesting results?

Yes, in Sweden, for example, we have two different projects. One is in the Stockholm area where we are building a sustainable area that enables people to test new ideas for generation, distribution and use of Smart Grid. In Gothenburg, where I live, it's the other way around. We are taking what is in existence and remaking it. I think both of these are very interesting to see because that is what we have to do – either we build new infrastructure with new technology or we need to create new innovative ideas for what is in place. Basically, we want to reduce energy loss and we want to transfer, convert and use energy in a smarter and more efficient manner.

Denmark is already looking to the long term with a plan for 2050. By then, the country wants all of its electricity to be produced by renewable sources. They are building demonstration projects now that look into totally isolated systems so they are able to balance the demand for power. For example, they have projects looking at how to balance the intermittent nature of wind power when charging electric cars. A car typically stands still 90% of the time, so if you can use that time for energy storage you have much to gain.

Question: What is the customer's role and will they have to be educated about Smart Grid?

The customer piece is crucial. Sometimes we talk too much about only the technology, but I think the driving force behind Smart Grid has to come from the customer's perspective. It isn’t a smart system if it is not what the customer wants. The solutions that Smart Grid offers to customers do not necessarily have to cost less, but they should offer customers increased value for what they are paying. They should get something more.

From a household perspective, it is about trying to optimize when electricity is used in order to reduce the cost. Where I come from, most of a household’s energy cost comes from heating the house. There are different solutions that use other energy solutions for heating, however these normally need some support from electricity. Here you would want to find a way to reduce the use of electricity one idea is to generate it locally. We really have to look at these market issues and incentives in order to see customers adopt Smart Grid.

Question: What is the most important message about Smart Grid that needs to be communicated to the market place?

I think sustainability is the driving force behind it, and it is important to communicate that we are not starting from square one. We have a system today that is very smart in many places. It is as much about adapting existing systems to meet new challenges as it is about building new ones. We need to talk about what we have in place today and what our needs are so we do not mislead people into thinking that we have to change everything. People need to understand why we are taking a sustainable approach. And the approach we take has to be cost beneficial, then we can come up with new ideas to further develop Smart Grid.