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IEEE: The expertise to make smart grid a reality

Interview with Oleg Logvinov

Oleg Logvinov is a member of the IEEE-SA Standards Board, Vice Chair of the IEEE 1901.2(TM) Working Group, and Director, Market Development, Industrial and Power Conversion Division, STMicroelectronics. He also serves as Chief Technical Officer of the HomePlug Alliance.

Oleg Logvinov discusses how the need for behavioral changes is key to Smart Grid’s success.

Question: When did you get involved with Smart Grid?

My personal involvement in Smart Grid probably began as a postgraduate student. I attended Technical University of Kiev in the Ukraine and studied applied cybernetics for power systems. I was working on activities related to the optimization of high-voltage, large-scale power grids that span across continents.

It's been several decades since then, but it seems like the questions and problems being raised by utilities and consumers today are still very much the same. People continue to struggle with how to embrace the ability to manage the reduction and optimization of power consumption. But the world is changing — devices and networks are becoming smarter, paving the road for a more energy consumption conscious future.

The struggles may still be the same, but now the need is more pronounced due to rising energy prices and disappearing energy budgets during peak hours. What used to be in the category of "nice to have" is quickly transitioning (or in some cases already has) into the category of "must have."

Question: What are you involved in today and why?

My focus has mainly been on the next generation of home networking technologies, especially as they relate to connectivity among the devices that create the new more intelligent home. While these devices and networks are typically hidden from the consumer, a lot of activities these devices and networks perform improve consumers’ lives. They also have the potential to make their lifestyles more energy conscious and energy efficient at the same time.

Question: What are you doing in terms of technical development?

In my day job, I help develop power line communication technologies and highly integrated System-on-Chip devices targeted specifically at many Smart Grid applications leveraging convergence of multiple networking technologies. I also focus on finding real market opportunities that can be realized leveraging existing technology or soon-to-be-available technology, while addressing real business cases and needs.

Question: Why will networking be so important to Smart Grid?

It is impossible to solve a problem unless you know what problem you are trying to solve. In much the same way you cannot optimize or control a process such as energy distribution, if you don’t have access to the information that is often distributed across a large physical area, and sometimes is time-dependent. The only way to gather that information when and where you need it is to provide a reliable communication platform. That’s why communication technologies are effectively a lynchpin of the Smart Grid.

Question: Which technologies are key?

STMicroelectronics has a very strong portfolio of communication technologies available today, including IEEE standards 802.11, 802.15.4, 802.3, 1901, 1901.2. It is important that that we leverage this vast portfolio that exists in the world of standards. Of course we are applying these standards in the context of Smart Grid and there may be gaps that we still need to fill, but we have a great starting point. So, it is not really the challenge of innovation related to the creation of new technologies; rather, it is trying to understand which technologies are the best fit for each specific need and integrating them into the systems that answer the requirements of Smart Grid applications.

Take IEEE 1901, for example. It was initially envisioned as a technology for high-speed communication for multimedia purposes. Today, after great success in the consumer space, this technology has found a great new application: it will soon be helping to manage the charging of electric vehicles, as only a few minor adjustments were needed to apply it to EV charging applications.

Question: Where do you think the biggest potential of the Smart Grid lies?

Smart Grid’s biggest impact will be in the behavioral modification of humans. Knowledge is power, especially the understanding of the impact of our own behavior on the environment. The "size" of our energy bills is a very important element that Smart Grid can impact. Through that capability, we will see quite a bit of change in habitual patterns regarding how we use energy. Smart Grid systems will help us become more conscious about how we are using and in many cases, wasting energy.

Communication technologies built into the Smart Grid will also improve reliability, security, disaster recovery capabilities, and many other facets of Smart Grid. But its most pronounced impact will be on how true Smart Grid changes people’s behavior, and that in turn will impact the environment considerably. It will inspire more conscious use of environmental resources and more conscious use of resources in ways that will enable us to shift the bulk of our consumption to energy produced by renewable rather than fossil fuels. It is our choices of technology that impact the environment. For example, when we make a decision to buy a gasoline powered car or an electric car. The impact of that decision on the environment is quite substantial.

Question: What are the biggest pitfalls and challenges to Smart Grid? Are they deal-breakers or merely speed bumps? And how do we overcome them?

The main challenge for Smart Grid today is the enormousness of the task itself – there are way too many activities and not enough coordination of those activities. We have not yet developed an understanding of how all those activities should be linked together.

Frankly speaking, this is not a deal-breaker. This is more or less in the category of growing pains because it is an issue of the process of taking something from its infancy to its maturity. If you look at the market today, in general and in light of the need for Smart Grid to help us sustain our lives as we’d like them to be here on Earth, nothing can stop this activity. Are we going to have challenges along the way? Absolutely. But they won’t be deal-breakers. We just need to go through the educational cycle to understand what to focus on and what to ignore. I think people are doing a good job of that and I’m pretty optimistic that we will see a bright future for Smart Grid.

Question: Can you think of any examples of technologies that have matured in the same manner?

This task has not been completed yet, but look at where we started with the modern TV sets. We started with plasma displays that were producing so much hot air that you could make a piece of paper fly through the air. And now all of the manufacturers are doing a good job educating consumers about the power consumption of their devices. Manufacturers can even tell consumers how much energy their sets will use and how much it will cost them annually based on a normal viewing pattern.

Another example is people driving on the interstate highways in select areas of the country are getting used to dynamically priced high occupancy toll lanes. All of that information and education ushers in a change in behavior as people become conscious about the impact of their actions has on their wallets. In my opinion, this is a clear demonstration that we are departing from yesterday’s point of view that energy is basically free, to people’s willingness and need to think about what it costs and how much they are spending. For most, this is not coming from the point of view of being conscious about the environment. It is coming from being conscious about their wallet. The good news is that it subsequently takes care of the environment, as well.

Question: When do you feel that the world will truly be able to realize the goal of an actual “smart” grid? Is it already happening? If so, can you provide specific examples?

In my opinion, Smart Grid is a process that will never stop. As technology evolves we will always find something newer, better and smarter to embed into our lives, and that in turn will continue changing our patterns of behavior and consumption, making them more efficient and modernizing the ways we do things. So I think it will be an evolving process. As we continue to deplete our fossil fuel resources and energy becomes more difficult to find, people will continue to be on a quest for new renewable sources of energy. With each one of those new sources and ways of transmitting energy, we will see changes that make the grid smarter. It is a never-ending process, but I’m glad that we have departed from our old ways of not caring about energy use.

Question: What do you think Smart Grid will look like in the future?

One of my favorite subjects is how the home will become a nucleus of the Smart Grid. What we talk about on the macro-scale of countrywide grids is going to happen on a micro-scale inside of our homes. Devices and appliances within our homes will learn how to work with each other. They will make our homes into energy islands that become very aware of how much energy is being consumed and how much can be put back onto the grid.

I think this will be a very interesting and fundamental change that will probably occur over the next five years. That is where we will see a tremendous opportunity for a lot of communication technologies and for a lot of System-on-Chip type of technologies. Designs are scaling down to a size that enables intelligence to be placed into very small and inexpensive form factor suitable for practically any device connected to the power grid. This will provide us with a lot of very interesting opportunities and developments.

Question: Why do you think these things will happen so quickly?

Right now, many technologies are at the point where the implementation of intelligent devices is becoming possible at the right price point. They will be embedded into our lights, outlets, meters, solar panels, electric vehicles, stoves, HVAC equipment, and everywhere else you can imagine. I think that will drive a very significant generational change of the devices within the home. This will change how our homes operate into what will essentially be like a living, breathing organism.

Question: If there were one thing you could change about anything happening now with the Smart Grid, what would it be? Why?

Smart Grid needs a more significant level of investment and incentives from the government. And, we need to start rewarding people for their energy conscious behavior. If you look at the level of incentives in place today, they are not significant enough. That investment can come in the form of tax breaks or R&D credit for companies that are working on Smart Grid. Demonstration projects are needed, too, because education is a very strong component that will help us to change our behavior. All of these combined require a significant investment.