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IEEE: The expertise to make smart grid a reality

Interview with Ganesh Kumar Venayagamoorthy

Dr. Ganesh Kumar Venayagamoorthy is Editor of IEEE Transactions on Smart Grid and Chairs the Intelligent Systems Subcommittee and Intelligent Control Systems Working Group of IEEE’s Power and Energy Society. He also has been appointed by the IEEE Computational Intelligence Society (CIS) as Chair of the IEEE CIS's Smart Grid Task Force...

Dr. Ganesh Kumar Venayagamoorthy discusses how Smart Grid will create new lifestyles for consumers.

Question: How do you define Smart Grid?

Smart Grid is an electricity infrastructure built with advanced sensing and communication capabilities that allows the embedding of intelligent systems to compute the approriate control signals. This intelligence enables bi-directional power flows between generation sources, including storage, and smart devices in order to optimize a number of objectives. Those generation sources include traditional and renewable sources, as well as smart devices such as plug-in electric vehicles. Smart Grid technologies also turn traditional loads into smart loads that optimize energy usage by minimizing the cost of energy to the end user, minimizing emissions and maximizing reliability and security.

The embedding of intelligent systems is critical to achieving these objectives because such systems are able to collect data and use it to make the decisions and adaptations that are necessary for meaningful change. These adaptations must be just-in-time, reliable and fault tolerant to keep all the elements of the grid working together.

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

A number of innovations are occurring. Phasor Measurement Units (PMUs) are being placed on the grid. PMUs help Smart Grid sense what is happening by collecting data for use in algorithms that are being developed to provide situation awareness and wide-area monitoring. Wide-area monitoring systems could be used to implement some of Smart Grid objectives such as wide-area control. This would enable neighboring areas to collaborate with one another and take care of each other’s needs in real-time.

In addition to PMUs, utilities are spending a lot of money deploying smart meters. Smart meters allow bi-directional communication. I expect that what we will see next is utilities offering real-time pricing to customers so they can minimize their energy usage and costs while making the best use of the energy resources available to them on this planet.

Question: What is the most important message about Smart Grid that needs to be communicated to the market and the rest of the world?

The most important message right now relates to the benefits of Smart Grid, which basically can be summarized as a reduction in both the cost of energy and the amount of emissions. We have a long way to go before we can really quantify these benefits, but they are the end goals of Smart Grid. In short, the most important message is that Smart Grid will offer less expensive, cleaner and more sustainable energy than we have today.

Question: What is the value of Smart Grid to consumers?

Smart Grid will create a new lifestyle for consumers. Today, consumers do not know how the energy they consume is produced and delivered to them. With Smart Grid technologies deployed all the way to the end user, consumers will be able to know exactly how much electricity they consume to roast a chicken or when lights are left on instead of being turned off. Today, they pay for what they use at the end of the month, but there is no breakdown of how they used their energy. In-home energy management systems will enable interested consumers to keep track of how much energy they are using and for what purpose.

We waste a lot of energy today, but with Smart Grid technology and information available at home or on our smart phones, we will become cognizant of what we waste. I think this will encourage less waste, reduce consumption and help us become more conscious of our environment. We don’t want to live in a way that will make life more difficult for our children. Smart Grid can help us achieve more sustainable lifestyles that minimize energy waste and maximize the use of clean energy.

Question: How does Smart Grid's landscape in the U.S. compare to other countries?

The U.S. is a big country. The single largest machine ever built by man is the North American electrical power grid. Transmitting power across more than 150,000 miles, the U.S. grid consists of three interconnected systems – East, West and Texas.

Therefore, Smart Grid in the U.S. will be a very complex system, which is why so many pilot studies and demonstrations of smart micro-grids are being conducted. Because our existing grid is so massive, we are presented with a unique challenge. Implementing Smart Grid in the U.S. will be a more complicated undertaking than in smaller countries, but it will provide us with many opportunities, too. For example, we have diverse sources of energy and profiles, including wind and solar. However, those resources are all distributed across the nation, so we will need distributed intelligence to make these diverse sources cooperate, instead of cause adverse effects.

Question: Where can entrepreneurs find the most opportunities to contribute to Smart Grid?

Innovation is very important. I don't think any of us can claim to know the A-Z’s of implementing Smart Grid because it will be a continuously evolving infrastructure. What we have today will be very different in 10 years and going forward. Therefore, innovation is needed to address today's challenges as well as those that are yet to come. With Smart Grid, we are talking about the marriage of the electricity infrastructure with the transportation and other infrastructures, each with its own complexities. We need technologies that will handle the increasing complexity of Smart Grid systems and tools that will aid the development of computational systems thinking machines so we can anticipate what will happen as our systems continue to grow.

Question: What will Smart Grid look in near- and long-term future?

In the near future, Smart Grid development efforts will focus on education and awareness of the benefits that Smart Grid will offer. In five years, I think we will see more renewables integrated into the grid.

Of course, when you drive on Germany's motorways today, you see wind farms everywhere. You don’t see nearly as many in the U.S., but in five to 10 years, you will see many more here. You will see solar farms and more electric vehicles, too. The President has mandated that there will be one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015. I think we are going to see that happen or at least come close to happening, but the big question is whether we will have the necessary infrastructure,including public charging stations to support that many electric vehicles by that time.

In 20 or 30 years, I think most of us will be using clean energy produced by renewables such as wind or solar power and driving electric vehicles or riding on electrically-powered transportation.

Dr. Ganesh Kumar Venayagamoorthy directs Smart Grid-related research at Clemson University. He provides guidance and assistance to taskforces, working groups, students and graduate students who are pushing toward Smart Grid's ever-evolving new frontiers.