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Writing the future of smart grid

"It's generally agreed that the coming decade will bring more change to our industry than we've seen in the previous century."

It was with these words that I began the cover story in this month's Intelligent Utility magazine, "Gazing into the future of the new utility." I asked a few of this industry's leading consultants and researchers to plumb their expertise and knowledge for answers about what our industry will look like, and what issues will come to the fore (or perhaps be resolved) by 2020.

Books have been written on subjects less broad in scope than the question I posed of these consultants. (One of the latest, due to be published this month, will be excerpted in the July/August issue of Intelligent Utility magazine.) But that's the kind of broad-brush look we need to be taking, and  discussing, as an industry.

Right now.

With all voices in chorus.

Here are the questions I posed:

  • What areas will see the most change in the coming decade? Will it be industry standards, cyber security, data analysis, the IT/OT convergence? Something else?
  • Is the consumer pushback we're seeing in some areas a small, sophomoric blip on the larger screen, or indicative of something we will see throughout the decade?
  • What do you think, realistically, our generation mix will look like in a decade's time? And what will our electric transmission infrastructure look like?
  • What's the big question I haven't asked, in your opinion?

The answers I received were somewhat surprising, in that each response to each question was different in focus, from one expert to the next. That confirmed for me, first and foremost, the rapid state of change we're currently experiencing in this industry.

But it also confirmed for me that, despite the hiccups, despite the blips, despite the negative consumer stories (in some states) that get a lot more play than they deserve in the popular media, there's a clear long-term vision. There's also a ton of technical and operational brilliance -- and, quite frankly, a large and encouraging measure of hope and faith -- in this industry that's going to get us where we need to go.

It's important that we continue to discuss the kernels presented within the magazine article. So, I'd like to follow up by posing the following questions:

  • What are the utility operational challenges the evolution to a smarter grid is posing? What are the best practices for handling them? What do you anticipate will challenge your utility as you move forward?
  • How quickly do you see new standards progressing? What are the current issues being faced by utilities with NERC-CIP compliance, as an example? How do you see standards issues and challenges change in the coming decade?
  • How much of a part will the country's economy play in the industry's ability to move forward?
  • If energy prices trend up, what will be the consumer response? How can utilities deal proactively with this issue?
  • The biggest change, consultants said, may be in the structure of the industry itself, right down to its very core: its staff. How do we best surmount the hurdles of a generation of retiring utility expertise?

Let's talk about these issues, both here on the Daily site, and among our peer and social media discussion groups. I'm interested in the ideas and answers, and further talk about the ideas we engender here.

Kate Rowland
Editor-in-chief, Intelligent Utility magazine
Twitter: @katerowland2


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