Government Technology

Who Will Build the Smart Grid?



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July 19, 2010 By

Story reprinted with permission of MuniWireless.

There should be some interesting conversation at the Smart Grid 2010 Summer V-Summit this month, following announcements of $200 million in funds to improve the way we create, connect and use power; plus the federal government's entry into critical infrastructure security dubbed the  "Perfect Citizen Program." It is clear that smart-grid momentum has started and will continue to move forward. Finding ways to securely and efficiently improve global power production and distribution is an ongoing process.

We do need a little creative imagination while recognizing the realities of current smart-grid infrastructure and security. For example, power company engineers have sometimes said that a smart meter design under regulatory cost guidelines needs to last at least 15 to 20 years while software engineers warn that home area network application software will change every six months. R&D engineers have said that it will be 10 to 15 years before we have the technologies and infrastructure to deploy smart grids and yet a few small cities have already deployed smart power and utility systems and are already using the same infrastructure for other city services.  I have never seen such a swing in views. However, there is a common point of agreement: Smart-grid efficiencies will be achieved with or without stimulus funding. 

To understand why there is such a disparity in thinking when it comes to the smart grid, I would suggest looking at the diagram on the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability site.  When participating in professional smart grid discussions I found, in the same group conversation, one person talking about technology and another talking about policy and regulation. Power companies look at things one way, consumers and environmental groups another, with policymakers sometimes bringing everything to a halt.  There are specific solutions that support the progress of smart grid, and to employ them, it may be time for a fresh look.

The smart grid and the solutions to its successes are not simple. So it's essential to find someone who has already done what you are looking for and also to find a consulting and real-world integration group that has practical experience in the subject.

You Can't Just Switch on the Smart Grid

I have done a lot of upgrading from legacy communication networks to digital IP networks and it's a lot easier to  build a brand new IP network than to interface dissimilar legacy technologies into one homogeneous network.

In a recent Smart Grid Alliance webinar Doug Preece, utilities industry specialist from Capgemini, summed up just how big and complex the opportunity is. He referenced the SmartGrid.gov site as a way to track the billions of grant awards already released by the Smart Grid Investment Grant (SGIG) program.  In fact there is so much work to be done Preece stated that there would be "a tremendous draw on resources across the industry, vendors and service providers," and that "there in no lack of opportunity."

Dave Malkin the policy manager for GE Energy has been following a variety of issues as they relate to the smart grid.  One of the top policy issues he is tracking is cyber security policy. "Cyber security has been a hot button in Congress for months now" said Malkin. He addressed his concern on how current cyber policy passed by Congress could affect the smart grid. He agrees that we need to, "effectively address real-world smart-grid cyber security threats but not in a way that


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