by Roger Anderson, Columbia University
As utilities and suppliers await the funding of the modernization of the electric system in the United States that goes by the name “Smart Grid”, there seem to be two schools of thought circulating across the country. There are those looking forward to the change and those dreading the consequences of the change. Both camps have valid worries. Those looking forward to the change that the Smart Grid will make to our economic and personal welbeing, are anticipating a new paradigm of cheaper, more reliable power delivery from cleaner and greener sources. Those fearing the changes worry about more rather than fewer blackouts, costs that will increase with time, and even an electric grid made more vulnerable to terrorist attack. As the Smart Grid becomes more like the Internet, they worry that worms, viruses, and as yet unnamed cyber attacks will bring down the grid. More below the fold.
Both of these futures are possible, unfortunately, as the U.S. begins to reinvigorate the “greatest machine ever built by humans.” The course will be decided by how well we implement the changes, not by how high tech they are. As our book on “Computer-Aided Lean Management for the Energy Industry” goes to great lengths to point out, a Lean implementation is only as successful as its methodologies. If the U.S. government just throws the stimulus money into the industry without an Integrated Master Plan and Schedule executed with critical paths and performance metrics to judge progress and redirect failing efforts into more successful paths, then we can expect a mess at the best and a catastrophe at the worst. If instead, as in any Lean Implementation, there is an overall program plan coming out of DOE beginning in November, expect a huge success. This is how to tell. Look at the overall grants of funding across the country and see if you can see any logic to the decisions. An example of logic that is not Lean was the Department of Homeland Security’s funding after 9/11. DHS scattered money all across the U.S. except in the main terrorism targets of New York City, Washington D.C. and the country’s other largest cities. A good Lean implementation can be found from the Department of Defense through DARPA’s creation of the Internet, which steadily proceeded from a military-only net, to a university-mostly net, to an everybody-everywhere net. That progression was foreseen, planned, and scrupulously executed over many, many years.
As we begin the building of the Smart Grid, look for the following Lean traits: 1. Cyber-security, built not only on standards gathered together by committees of experts via the Department of Commerce, but founded also on military technologies already proved invulnerable against real attacks by foreign countries and terrorists and tested daily by our own National Security Agency. If present, ask if it is being applied uniformly across the country; 2. Interoperability, so that any hardware or software that is value-adding to performance can be plugged into the Smart Grid and played by all. Think of the thousands of apps for the Apple iPhone as opposed to the few tens that work with Microsoft’s Zune; and 3. Open Software, that allows any application adding value to the Smart Grid to communicate with valuable apps from other manufacturers and the vast volume of new data the will be exchanged both ways between utilities and customers. Look for what is called in the computer industry a “Middleware” layer that takes care of the communications, data transfer, visualization and implementation of actions between systems from any manufacturer to any other.
We see three different locations that the (hopefully) Lean government implementation plan will have to cover with new Smart Grid technologies and techniques: 1. what we call the “vertical” city of skyscrapers and dense urban living; 2. the “horizontal” city of vast populations spread over large urban areas but with few high rise buildings; and 3. the suburbs where economies in the home and with Electric Vehicle recharging will occur.
With Peak Oil fast approaching, this coming transition from the present hydrocarbon economy to the future electric economy powered by the Smart Grid must succeed if the world is to maintain its progress towards the admirable goals of life (read food, water and shelter), liberty (read whatever each considers liberty to be), and that wonderful expression that requires no further definition in any language, the pursuit of happiness. Wish us all Luck.