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IEEE: The expertise to make smart grid a reality

Interview with Tariq Samad

Tariq Samad is a member of the IEEE Smart Grid Steering Committee, a Fellow of the IEEE, and the former President of the IEEE Control Systems Society. He is a Corporate Fellow at Honeywell Automation and Control Solutions.

In this interview, Tariq Samad explains that many Smart Grid technologies can be employed today to substantially improve energy efficiency and reduce energy consumption. In many cases, benefits can be realized almost immediately and a return-on-investment can be quickly achieved.

Question: What is your role as a member of the IEEE Smart Grid Steering Committee?

I represent the consumer side of Smart Grid and, from a technology perspective, the control systems that will be used in Smart Grid.

Many people agree that one of the key things that distinguishes Smart Grid from today’s systems is that consumers——and consumer facilities—will be much more engaged. In years past, utilities had almost complete control over power generation sources and could adjust their generation to compensate for predictable demand variations, to meet sudden peaks in demand or to quickly ramp things down if needed. But now, as we start to add renewable resources such as wind and solar, we’re introducing substantial variation and unpredictability on the generation side. We need to control or manage consumption in homes, buildings and industrial plants to compensate for this supply-side unpredictability.

Control systems are used to gather operational and usage feedback from the grid, process and analyze these signals using sophisticated model-based algorithms, and effect control actions so utilities can keep the grid balanced and minimize costs while satisfying the electricity needs of consumers. With Smart Grid control technologies, we will be able to establish feedback loops that encompass the entire grid, from consumption to generation and including energy markets. Control technologies will thereby enable a revolutionary advance in the responsiveness and robustness of power grids and will be instrumental in reaching the levels of renewable energy penetration that are now envisioned worldwide.

Question: What are the most exciting innovations in Smart Grid automation and control technologies today?

There is a lot of interest in new applications for automated demand response technologies. These were originally devised to adjust customer loads in order to deal with utility costs for buying or generating power. Now, the concept is being extended for renewables integration, transmission congestion, and ancillary services, such as non-spinning and other types of reserves. Connecting automated demand response with both wholesale and retail markets is being pursued. The next generation of automated demand response technologies is also likely to incorporate storage and distributed generation assets in facilities, in addition to loads.

Microgrids are another exciting innovation. Honeywell has implemented a microgrid for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration campus in Maryland, to name one project. This is the largest microgrid project of its kind, generating 20 MW of capacity today and going to 50 MW next year. Microgrids enable facilities to operate more-or-less independently of the grid based on economic and reliability factors, depending on on-site storage and generation and managing loads as appropriate. If there is a severe storm warning, a facility microgrid can put itself in "island mode" and disconnect from the external grid to protect the facility from potential external interruptions. For example, we automatically islanded the FDA microgrid during the earthquake that hit the East Coast in 2011. There is much more to be done to innovate with microgrids, though. We are just scratching the surface in how these microgrids can interact with customers and the grid itself.

Question: Are there innovations in other areas of Smart Grid that you consider particularly noteworthy?

Electric vehicles are stimulating much innovation. The industry is already developing approaches for charging EVs. The next step is to use EVs, once they are charged and plugged into the grid from a home or business, as a power generation source. For example, customers could use EVs to power and control the lights in a house or in a building if power from the grid is too expensive.

The "Green Button" initiative launched this year by the White House is also important. The program gives customers access to their historical consumption data, which they can view and forward on to a third-party service for analysis. Real-time data gathered from smart meters could be included. A few utilities have already implemented a green button feature, and several others have committed to doing so. Access to, and analysis of, consumption data will help homeowners not only reduce their electricity bills but also improve their quality of life. For example, a homeowner could know if their refrigerator efficiency had dropped—an indication of potential near-term failure—or if they were using significantly more energy at peak times than similar homes in the area.

Question: Can you describe some of the specific smart grid projects you're working on at Honeywell?

We are conducting a pilot project that is assessing the benefits offered by in-home devices, including thermostats installed in nearly 400,000 homes. These devices help the homeowner adjust their equipment usage as congestion problems arise or as power prices increase. This program has been very successful.

We are conducting an automated demand response project in Southern California that involves hundreds of commercial buildings. This project uses a middleware solution so that the same technology can be applied in any building, even though each building's control equipment might be supplied by a different vendor.

We are conducting a pilot project with some California utilities to apply demand response for ancillary services, and we have already demonstrated demand response technology that can automatically adjust loads in response to ancillary service dispatches every few seconds.

Through a small microgrid project for a hospital in the Netherlands, we demonstrated methods for optimally scheduling generation assets based on varying utility market prices. That project had a return on investment of less than a year. It has been operational for several years and it still produces significant year-to-year reductions in energy bills.

Finally, and to go back to the renewables theme, we have recently been awarded a project in Hawaii that is focusing on renewable integration and fast automated demand response. The intent here is to integrate wind energy in the grid using demand-side resources.

Question: How will customers and businesses experience the benefits of smart grid automation and control solutions?

The benefits of Smart Grid control solutions will accrue to all stakeholders. Closed-loop automated demand response will enable utilities and ISOs to effectively use demand-side resources as another "control knob," something they cannot do today. They will therefore be better able to manage volatile wholesale prices or grid congestion.

Residential users and small businesses, which have not had access to dynamic rates offered to large commercial customers, will be able to adjust consumption in response to market signals and gain economic benefits by doing so. Environmental concerns of some consumers, such as concerns about the source of the power (e.g., if it is "green" or not) will also be addressed. And all consumers will have more reliable electricity.

I want to emphasize that automation and control systems, such as energy management systems, smart thermostats, and intelligent appliances will make realizing these benefits painless! The Smart Grid will also attract a new vendor community serving consumers and utilities with new devices, solutions, and third-party applications. These new companies will serve a range of sectors and subsectors with new products and solutions based on control technologies.

Question: What do you think is the most important message about smart grid that needs to be communicated now, and why is that?

The point of the Smart Grid is to be better and more efficient stewards of energy, but the low-hanging fruit is energy efficiency. It doesn't take much investment to reduce energy consumption. You just need better tools, and Smart Grid developments are providing the tools. We can make a substantial dent in our energy consumption and reduce our reliance on coal-based power, for example, just by focusing on energy efficiency.

There is much in Smart Grid that we can implement today to realize immediate benefits, and many benefits in fact are being realized in a large number of applications, from pilot-scale applications to fully commercial ones. A huge investment is not needed for most projects and ROI can often be achieved in just months or a year. This is also very important, yet not well-enough understood.

Question: What are some of the Smart Grid tools that can be used in these types of studies?

Data analytics plays a major role. For example, Honeywell analyzes electricity consumption for 65 percent of the top retailers, with deployments in more than 40,000 sites worldwide. We gather energy usage data for our customers and compare electricity consumption for different sites, factoring in climate conditions, geographies, and business conditions with sophisticated analytics tools. This helps us identify the sites with the greatest opportunities for energy efficiency and for reducing electricity cost. We have demonstrated substantial impact, literally in the billions of dollars, with multi-site energy management and control. This type of analysis can be done now with available tools and control systems.

Tariq Samad is a member of the IEEE Smart Grid Steering Committee, a Fellow of the IEEE, and a former President of the IEEE Control Systems Society. He is a Corporate Fellow at Honeywell Automation and Control Solutions. He represents Honeywell on the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute and is a member of the Governing Board of the U.S. Smart Grid Interoperability Panel.