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IEEE: The expertise to make smart grid a reality

Interview with Mark McGranaghan

Mark McGranaghan is involved with the PQ Subcommittee, Harmonics, Distribution, Intelligent Grid, and Distribution Automation within IEEE and Vice President of Power Delivery & Utilization for the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). He is also active in CIGRE and IEC.

Mark McGranaghan sheds light on the communications and power delivery infrastructure that provides the critical underpinning for Smart Grid.

Question: What is your definition of Smart Grid?

I think of it as the communication and information infrastructure that gets laid on top of the power delivery system along with the intelligent monitoring, control, and management applications that are enabled by this infrastructure. It's really the applications and the technologies that are the heart of Smart Grid. That's why everyone has their own definition of Smart Grid – from Phasor Measurement Units on a transmission system to smart washing machines.

Question: What is the Electric Power Research Institute's role in Smart Grid?

We have been working on Smart Grid for many years as part of a program called the Intelligrid Program. We have put together a foundation for the methodology that is now used throughout the industry to develop the requirements for the communication and information infrastructure. Throughout our research portfolio, we work on Smart Grid applications themselves.

Questions: What one message about Smart Grid would you want to communicate to any of the different stakeholders out there?

The most important message is that Smart Grid is a continuous journey. It is a continuous modernization and improvement of the power delivery system with integration of resources at all levels. There is no single end point to Smart Grid.

Question: What are some of the biggest challenges facing utilities that are working to make Smart Grid a reality?

The first challenge is the business case. The communication and information infrastructure that enables Smart Grid supports applications that involve a lot of different stakeholders. As part of the buisness case, utilities have to deal with regulatory and policy issues. They can’t just make a decision to invest in a particular communication information infrastructure on their own. A business case must be presented and approved by a broader group of stakeholders.

The second challenge is the road map for applications. This requires you to have a vision of how Smart Grid will look in the future as you determine the requirements for the communication and information infrastructure today.

Standards that will enable applications to work together are also important when it comes to figuring out the specifics of the infrastructure that is required.

Question: What are the top concerns utility companies face when preparing for the introduction of electric vehicles in the United States?

The first challenge we have as a utility is making sure that our systems are designed to deal with the load that electric vehicles will place on the system. I think we are pretty much there already. The second and much bigger issue is customer education and customer services. Developing the systems that will be needed to answer customers' questions requires a big change to our customer information systems. Utilities are working very hard on those issues.

As penetration levels get higher, the impact of electric vehicles on the overall load will have more impact on the design and operation of the distribution system. This is where smart charging comes into play - getting standards and infrastructure in place to help control when vehicles charge and the rate at which they charge. This will minimize the impact of charging and all of the customer issues that go with it. We also need to translate the benefits of the electric vehicle as a resource into benefits for the customer and develop the programs and policies impacting their use accordingly.

Question: How do we get consumers to believe that Smart Grid will be able to sustain the adoption of electric vehicles on a massive scale?

I don't think they need to be concerned. We have dealt with new loads such as air conditioning in the past, and we can deal with electric vehicles just as well. I think being able to translate the benefits of the electric vehicle to consumers is going to be complicated in terms of how rate structures get developed and how their participation in markets is implemented.

Feeling comfortable buying a car and taking advantage of the fact that it is going to have a reduced impact on the environment is really a win-win situtation for utilities and consumers.

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

Yes. Privacy of information that is inherent in Smart Grid and cyber security for the power system grid infrastructure and its monitoring and control systems are both critical issues at a national level. The Department of Energy, the Department of Homeland Security and utilities are all working to develop guidelines, technologies, best practices, and rules for compliance in this area.

We are continually working on new technologies and approaches to make sure that the grid's control systems are secure. It's a challenge today and it's going to be more of a challenge as we extend those controls deeper into the system and closer to the customer. It's not a challenge that individual customers need to lose sleep over though, because they don’t have much control over those technologies or decisions.

Privacy, on the other hand, is an overall concern. We all have decisions to make in terms of the privacy of our data. With Smart Grid moving into advanced metering and maybe into people's homes to control their appliances and Smart Grid devices, privacy is a very important issue. It is getting a lot of attention in terms of what people want to enable and who should have access to information associated with smart grid applications.

Privacy of data will definitely continue to be an issue and we can put systems in place that maintain the privacy of that data, while still enabling access to provide many valuable applications to customers. From a research point of view, we don't work on policy issues, but we do work on the technologies and applications that are required to implement policy decisions. Technologies and applications to support privacy requirements are in this category.

Question: Policy and regulatory environments are drastically different from state-to-state and around the world. How will this impact the progression of Smart Grid.

Many national, state and local regulations and policies are critical drivers for Smart Grid. These include state policies about renewable integration, energy efficiency, support for electric vehicles and enabling customers to participate in markets. In addition to helping to determine the requirements for much of Smart Grid, these policies are needed in order to build a power system that can support 20% and higher renewables penetration (an objective in some states and countries) and reach solar generation targets on distribution systems.

The policies differ depending on where you are and the physical infrastructure of the grid in that part of the nation or world. For example, Europe's power systems have different characteristics in terms of the number of customers per transformer. These differences have an impact when considering what Smart Grid seeks to accomplish. We have to develop interoperability standards and guidelines for technologies that will work in all those environments and systems.

Question: What are some of the innovations you are seeing in Smart Grid technologies?

Three good examples of innovation are model-based management, sensors and power electronics.

Model-based management addresses the power system. The power system model is going through a huge change, especially when it comes to the requirements for the customer model. We have load profiles and forecasts for customer characteristics, but now we have to deal with things like voltage response from customers' loads. This is because we are putting in technology that will reduce voltage to save energy.

To plan for that and predict energy savings, part of our model needs to cover customer equipment and load response to different voltages. It needs to represent technologies like electric storage and distributed renewables that may be part of the customer's residence or part of the grid.

The same thing applies as we move all the way up to the transmission grid. Demand response resources that are in the home are part of the resources that have to be managed at grid level. So, the power system model has to handle all these new requirements, both from a planning point of view and for real-time optimization and management of the system.

Another example is sensors, which are a big part of Smart Grid. Putting sensors on assets will help utility companies track their condition in real-time with regard to temperature, pressure or the characteristics of the energy source. There are sensors for transformers, circuit breakers, surge arrestors, insulators and transmission lines. Innovations in sensor technology include infrared monitoring and detection of electro-magnetic fields so we can tell if there is any arcing in a particular device.

Power Electronics is another example of innovation. Transformers that are smart node/communication hubs in power systems enable customers to do things like manage the charging of electric vehicles to make sure it does not cause transformer failures. Duke Energy has already demonstrated this concept. Further innovations to develop a solid state transformer that can integrate storage, electric vehicle charging, and other DC interfaces with the supply to regular customer loads is the next step. Innovation in something as old and familiar as a transformer is very exciting.

Mark McGranaghan directs research at the Electric Power Research Institute on everything from the generator to the toaster. He also has been on the governing board of the NIST Smart Grid Interoperability Panel, which is working to move Smart Grid standards forward.