Technology Foresight - Shaping the R&D Potential of the Smart Grid

SBy Peter Wung

As the promise of the smart grid begins to materialize, the number of technologies that will play important roles in the implementation of the smart grid are growing. At the inception of the smart grid, the majority of the work was limited to those fields, which are associated with the electric power industry. However, as the definition of the smart grid has evolved, new technology spaces have become critical. Power electronics, advanced controls, measurement and instrumentation, big data, (industrial) internet of things, consumer electronics, commercial and industrial power systems, are a few worth mentioning among many others, which are beyond the traditional electrical power, and communications disciplines.

As the potential research and development topics have grown, the cross-coupling relationships among these independent topics with each other as well as with previously identified R&D topics have also grown exponentially.

The IEEE Smart Grid Research and Development Committee is tracking the potential R&D topics in hopes of creating a viable structure to accurately, adequately, and systematically capture each of these R&D topics and their relationship with the rest of the smart grid space. As a reasonable starting point, the committee used the definitions of the Domains and Sub-domains from the IEEE Smart Grid Committee, as a fundamental structure for the established topics.

As this initial work progressed, it became clear that the rapid growth of the smart grid definition has made the initial Domain and Sub-domains structure too limited to encompass the current reality. The point was illustrated when the committee started putting together a relational database, which would serve to track the research and development topics. The preliminary design of the relational database revealed that many of the identified topics did not fall easily into the previously determined Domains and Sub-domains. Hence, the initial structure needed to be expanded.

The IEEE Smart Grid R&D committee worked on resolving the challenges of accurately categorizing the numerous topics, tracking the causal relationships among them, creating a structure for the R&D topics, while also expanding the Domains and Sub-domains definitions. Professor Massoud Amin, the chairman of the IEE Smart Grid, proposed that the committee investigate the application of the Technology Foresight tools to attack both challenges together. The committee has embarked on the work of applying the method to the data.

The main reference and guide for the Technology Foresight assessment task is a reference by Lockwood Carlson, titled “Using technology Foresight to Create Business Value,”

Technology Foresight is a process, which gives an entity (usually a company) the technological insight and foresight to sort through a large number of the inter-related technology options. Thus, the entity may be able to identify technology opportunities, and develop a clear picture of the R&D strategy that is in line with the surrounding business strategies. This established process uses the technical personnel to identify existing technology strengths, while the non-technical experts within the entity and the industry help uncover foresight from technological and business trends.

This description fits into the IEEE Smart Grid R&D Committee’s stated endeavor: sort through the identified R&D topics related to smart grid; identify how new and undocumented topics are related, however peripherally, to each other and to existing identified smart grid topics; creating a new structure to logically accommodate the R&D topics new and old; and finally, to identify ways to expand the Domains and Sub-domains definition. Even though the business element is not inherent in the IEEE Smart Grid mission, the Technology Foresight process could still be used as the defining process to manage the smart grid related technologies intelligently efficiently, and effectively.

The Technology Foresight process consists of two portions: insight and foresight.

Insight refers to assessment of existing technology; the process reveals insight into existing technological landscape. The foresight portion of the process assesses the future value of the R&D topics as compared to technology trends, identifies emerging technology areas –new Domains, Sub-domains, and focus areas as the experts sort through both the existing and emerging topics. Finally, the process creates a vision for prioritizing all the technology options so that R&D strategic decisions can be made.

Each topic in the insight portion is plotted in a triangular chart, with each point of the triangle being a fundamental science and engineering component. Each topic is plotted on the triangle with three underlying fundamental areas, the topics positioning on the triangle are dependent on the relative impact each fundamental science and engineering component has on the topic. As the topics are plotted on the chart, a “Power Zone” is identified by the topics cluster. This part of the process allows the committee to define each topic in terms of the known engineering knowledge and allows these topics to be aggregated in terms of known engineering knowledge.

The next step is to apply industry trends for the future as well as technology dynamics. This step moves the technology assessment outside of the known markets and into broader and less certain determinations. The potential of each topic is extrapolated based on the market trends and its dependence on other technologies. This step is undertaken aggressively to force the vision towards speculation and risk. This decision is not taken lightly, as most decision makers are risk averse. Nevertheless, this step is intended to push the thinking beyond the known and comfortable. As a counterpoint and response to the risk and speculation exercise, small groups are convened to take a deep dive research into the topics to quantify the risks and threats inherent to these topics and the associated assumptions.

Once these topics have been investigated, the causal relationships between the topics are assessed using a Technology Interaction Matrix. This step creates a quantitative comparison of how each topic drives the other technologies being considered. This not only identifies the causal relationship between technologies, but also identifies the underlying fundamental technologies for Domains and Sub-domains discussions. The scores each topic accumulates in this matrix is calculated and plotted on a two-dimensional grid of Source Technology score and Technology Utilization score. This plot identifies where the technology topics sit in the broad spectrum of technology development, with strong source technology scores identifying the foundational technologies and strong Technology Utilization scores identifying those topics that are products.

The R&D committee is presently working on taking the existing list through the Technology Foresight process. As the work begins to take shape, the committee will report on the findings. We welcome subject experts and others interested in this process to help us take a deep dive into this necessary step in our work.

For a downloadable copy of the December 2017 eNewsletterwhich includes this article, please visit the IEEE Smart Grid Resource Center



Peter Wung

Peter Wung, IEEE Senior Member, is Staff Engineer for GE Aviation EPISCenter in Dayton, Ohio, specializing in electromagnetic designs for aviation. He received his B.S. in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign, his M.S. in electrical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology, and his doctorate in philosophy from the Georgia Institute of Technology, specializing in electric machines. He has been active in the IEEE since his freshman year in college, having served in various capacities within the IEEE Industry Application Society (IAS). He serves most recently as the Co-Chairperson of the IEEE Smart Grid R&D Committee. His current interest include: the impact of smart grid on customer systems, the relationship between the internet of things and the smart grid, and the development of customer level infrastructure for smart grid implementation

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