Interview with Steve Widergren


Steve Widergren, an editor of IEEE's Transactions on Power Systems, shares his thoughts about what the Smart Grid will look like in the near and long-term future.



Question: What do you envision when you look at the Smart Grid in one, five, 10, 25 years out?

There are lots of ideas as to what it might look like and the big question there is how to get there and those sorts of things. We have been talking a little bit about the distributed nature of the system and the transformational aspects of that. I think that we will continue to see more investment going into the distribution side and not just the investment but the control strategies, the optimization strategies, the economic signals with which to really integrate these resources.

So, here at the general meeting, we have looked at electric vehicles, electric transportation, and people are really kind of saying this time it’s going to happen. Now, how long that takes, what the penetration levels will be are to be seen but I think a level of that would be issues we have about sustainability going forward, the environmental issues associated with that, as well as the technology advances that have been made in batteries and motors and things that make it much more economical to have. These sorts of transportation issues.

Similarly, we see intelligence going into appliances themselves. So, washers and driers that already have actually the chips on there, they can alter their processes that go to providing the service of washing and drying clothes, etc., and heating and cooling homes. We have a great deal of reserve of energy that could actually be moved around in those situations and, with that intelligence, harnessing that sort of thing, I think we are going to see a lot more demand playing in the operation of the system. And again, if we can do that, we don’t have to build as much generation, we can incorporate in more variable generation like solar and wind types of facilities within the system as well.

So, taking that intelligence as well into the distribution and transmission system we need a lot more flexibility because of the unknowns and the mixtures that are out there. Nuclear power has its ups and downs and is presently in a down phase, but it is probably not down and out necessarily. At least I wouldn’t discount any of the possible sources of energy that come into the system. So, it’s very hard to predict exactly where we are going to find energy and how it’s going to be generated and how that gets incorporated into the uses in the future, and I think that the flexibility we need to have with our infrastructure, the transmission and distribution aspects and our controls for that, need to be able to handle a lot of different cases, depending upon how things shake out and how that path moves forward.