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IEEE: The expertise to make smart grid a reality

Will the Design of the Smart Grid incorporate Social and Cultural considerations?

The Smart Grid of the future has been described in many ways. The most widely accepted vision of the future grid is that of an electrical grid that is highly automated, managed, controlled and optimized by Information and Communications Technologies (ICT). There is one catch in this description; the grid of the future will not be the existing grid that is ICT enabled.  There will be fundamental differences to its design which will change the way we live our lives and interact socially and culturally.

These Social and Cultural considerations include topics like Privacy and Equity to name just a few. Sadly enough Technology designs and especially ICT designs typically fail to incorporate social and cultural view and viewpoints as critical requirements. This is not a new phenomenon. The technological landscape is cluttered with the remains of huge IT projects which either failed outright, or cost orders of magnitudes higher than originally estimated due directly to the inability of organizations to take into account the impact to the most important stakeholders, the people impacted by the design not just the perceived users.

We are now designing a Smart Grid which will take decades to build and implement and cost trillions of dollars. This means now, more so than any other time in our history, we have the time to get things right and design a grid that will propel our cultural and society into the future. Can we even imagine designing an electrical grid for the future that will be used by 300 million or more Americans and may even be a model for the world without looking at these impacts?

How do we do this? We need to start asking social and cultural impact questions like: Do we really want our personal data regarding our electrical usage available to everyone? How can we make energy become an affordable commodity to everyone versus and expensive service? How will my life change when I as a consumer may also be a producer of electrical energy and can now pick how I consume or market energy to others? How will the social responsibility mechanisms of policy and regulation continue to protect the weak and poor? These kinds of questions then can be incorporated as requirements and be used to extend our existing business and technical architectures from which we can map and build thoughtful technology designs that will be robust and flexible.

Why is the Co-Production of Technological Systems and Architectures by the Public and Technology Communities Vital to the Success of the Smart Grid.

By Tim Kostyk

Leap frog 30 years into the future to a world where distributed localized power is converted into storable sources of energy which powers our homes and businesses while supplying fuel to our transportation systems. Energy has become relatively ubiquitous, reliable, and cheap, very much like communications and information has become today.

What does this say about how society will be structured and dispersed, how that structure will impact the energy infrastructure we are designing today, and, finally, how will we develop technological standards and regulations to support that infrastructure? Today’s failing electrical infrastructure lasted just over a hundred years before the original design became unreliable. The existing grid was built solely to support business using the technology innovations of that day. The Smart Grid we are designing for tomorrow will take 30-50 years to design and implement and will be built, 1) for people, 2) as a national security mechanism, and, 3) to aid business. This means that we need to reevaluate our design criteria and standards to inform design as a function of predictable or projected human societal or cultural changes. This will enable us to build a Smart Grid which is extensible and flexible, rather than finite and technologically bound.

The Co-Production of technological systems and architectures based upon the reconciling of functional requirements to human social and cultural impacts is not an easy endeavor to undertake. But as the impact of effort increases in magnitude, so does the possibility of failure if you do not take in account the relationship of the two.

How do we scope and formulate extensible flexible systems without becoming driven into a paralysis by analysis spiral? One possible way is by understanding that the complexity and depth of design does not mean that all possibilities have to be considered all at once to the same level of granularity. First, try and incorporate a composite set of design criteria which take note of the most relevant factors including social and cultural dimensions. These criteria then can be mapped to a set of underlying architectures and possible standards.

Here is one simplistic possible scenario that could be abstracted into a series of use cases to inform architectural and engineered standards and designs as to how dynamic human and technological systems may interact. It may sound futuristic but, bear in mind; all the technologies talked about are currently being fast tracked into development. The attached scenario should drive out a high-level architecture which has domains of human systems which can map to underlying technological architectures. The high-level architecture produced by this scenario should inform the necessary changes or impacts to human systems frameworks such as policy, and illuminate potential issues to consumers and the public at large.

Current DOE Energy Frontier Research Centers across the U.S, and other research efforts worldwide, produce a new family of technologies that enable solar energy to cheaply produce electricity and other forms of storable energy such as hydrogen or exotic fuels. The public, business, and government together foster the use of these technologies as mutually desirable. Through new building and architectural codes and regulations, local, regional and central governments require new homes and businesses to be built using these technologies. Governmental Public Utility Commissions modify regulatory frameworks to embrace the new technologies. During the day, electrical generation produced by solar voltaic systems across a neighborhood or small city supply electricity to home and businesses, and produce fuel at what used to be gas stations to meet transportation needs. These previous gas stations then become distributed hybrid fuel and electrical generation plants that can also provide local transmission and distribution services all in one. Transportation vehicles will feed back electricity into the local distribution systems through homes and businesses during times when electrical generation is not possible and the vehicle is idle. Finally, take this scenario and plug in other forms of renewable energy such as wind, hydroelectric.

Given this scenario, the architecture of many human and technology systems would need to be modified, not merely enabled, by Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). System architectures become very brittle when they do not look at the human dimension that interfaces with science and technology. This does not mean usability as a factor in the interface; it dives to the next layer of social and cultural context that talk about societal impact and standards of life. Together these aspects co-produce new realities which tend to drive out new innovative technologies. Only by looking at the co-productive nature of design through these aspects can we truly begin to build a more stable energy infrastructure that will serve us well into the future.

Ethical, Legal and Social Implication of Smart Grid Technologies

The gradual yet monumental undertaking of replacing the inefficient and aging existing power grid and power consuming technologies within the U.S. with hyper efficient advanced Information Communications based Technologies (ICT) and the integration of alternative and distributed energy sources will touch every aspect of every portion of all sectors of society including: private, public, NGOs, military and government agencies. New functional standards are starting to emerge to enable the building of these technologies yet these standards have yet to start to look at the non-functional and integrative requirements of design predicated on potential issues involving topics such as privacy, access, monitoring, security, equity, governance, and environment concerns on either local, regional, national or international levels. Nor have we started to look at the methodologies or appropriateness of implementation or deployment. These new standards and methodologies of implementation will be the driving force behind technical design, implantation planning, public policy and law as well as the social and cultural dimensioning of the consumers of energy since they will affect the simplest manufactured electrical devices and the most casual of users to the most complex technical infrastructures; including military and governmental. The magnitude of this effort and the interconnectivity of its scope require that professionals in all aspects of society (Education, Business and Government) understand the socio-economic, socio-technology, socio-political and socio-cultural interfaces at all stages of development and deployment to make sure the appropriate ethical, legal and policy decisions that will produce appropriate new governance frameworks (public and private) are in place to protect society’s interests.