Friday, September 16, 2011

The Smart Grid Killer App

This week I am attending the GridWeek conference in Washington DC organized by Clasma. The theme for the conference is The Way Forward which reflects the journey that the industry has now started as we move from vision to deployments. Leading up to the event, there were some comments on the GridWeek web page that asked the question: What is the killer smart grid app? Normally a question related to smart phones, but this time the question was directed at the smart grid. So, is there a killer smart grid app?

Last year, Eric Wesoff for Greentech Media said that “demand response is the first smart grid killer app for industrial and large commercial customers. The killer residential energy application engages the energy consumer and places the consumer in a partnership with the utility. It's not easy, it's not sexy and it doesn't look like a shiny new smart meter. But it creates a value that the majority of customers understand. And we haven't quite found it yet.”

Apparently FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff did find his killer app last year. In an interview with Smart Grid Today, he said that “providing consumers with an economic incentive to take part in the wholesale market will drive the smart grid.” By basically placing demand response in an equal position to a power generator, Wellinghoff said “by doing that, we're creating a market for this product that is the killer app for the smart grid. DR creates a more efficient grid and allows consumers to control and, in some cases, lower their bills. When you combine those two things together you've got a very powerful engine that can make the smart grid start and sustain itself.”

Earlier this year, Pike Research, lead by founder and managing director Clint Wheelock, identified six smart grid applications that “will change the way people use, buy, manage, and think about electricity” in its report "Smart Grid Apps: Six Trends That Will Shape Grid Evolution". This report was released earlier this year and the six smart grid apps focus on: 1) home energy management systems, 2) electric vehicles, 3) distribution automation, 4) smart-grid analytics, 5) building energy management systems, and 6) carbon management. Now we have lots of killer apps.

And this week at GridWeek, Michael Smith from Utility Analytics Institute organized a breakfast meeting with a panel consisting of Chuck Newton from Newton-Evans, Marty Rosenberg from EnergyBiz, Kate Rowland from Intelligent Utility Magazine, and Howard Scott from Cognyst Advisors. It was an interesting panel and the discussion moved to the challenge of managing data. Michael summed up the breakfast by saying that he thinks that the killer smart grid app is intelligent asset management.

My conclusion – there is not one single killer app. Demand response, including home energy management and building management will have a growing impact. EVs will also be a game changer and managing EV charging will be a part of demand response. Reliability and efficiency are driving distribution automation. I agree that smart grid analytics, especially applied to intelligent asset management will be a killer app. The industry needs a killer app to address aging infrastructure – both the assets and the people now maintaining these assets. Carbon management may be a killer app in Europe, but does not have the same level of attention in North America. Finally, no one mentioned energy storage, the killer app I might pick if I only had one choice. Energy storage decouples power generation from consumption which completely changes the landscape.

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