Transforming a dumb network into a smart grid  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

Tyler Hamilton has a post at the Energy Collective on prospects for smart grids in 2009 - Smart grid destined for role as enabler of renewables, efficiency, and distributed generation.

I’m encouraged by many of the end-of-year stories coming out of the greentech community. Most of them argue that the “smart grid” will be a major story in 2009, and as my own year-end musings show I couldn’t agree more. In fact, my final story of the year is about the smart grid and its inevitable coming into being. Much of my story is through the seasoned eyes of Marzio Pozzuoli, founder and CEO of Woodbridge, Ontario-based RuggedCom Inc., the leading supplier of hardened communications gear to utilities around the world. In other words, RuggedCom sells routers, switches and wireless equipments for electrical substations. As more of this gear is installed we begin to see the grid as an extensive two-way communications network, able to collect and transmit information to where it’s needed.

The next step? Creating the software and setting up the systems that can organize, analyze and ultimately act on the information collected in a way that improves the efficiency, reliability and self-healing capability of our electricity system and makes integration of renewables and distributed generation much easier. No wonder the likes of IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Cisco, Oracle, Microsoft, Google and other giants of the IT sector are beginning to take notice and position themselves in what promises to be a massive market.

From Tyler's article in The Star - Transforming dumb network into smart grid.
Before the Internet there were small private networks that connected PCs, and before these networks were stand-alone computers incapable of sharing information.

And before the computer? We had the trusty old typewriter.

Looking forward, the technological evolution that in three decades moved us from the mechanical typewriter to Internet-connected computer is destined to be repeated in the move to modernize the continent's antiquated electricity system, experts say.

The goal: turn a dumb network of lines and electromechanical devices that is heavily reliant on human intervention into an efficient, two-way, automated "smart grid" that collects, shares and acts on information to manage the flow of electrons.

It's a transition already underway, and for good reason. The transformer devices in a typical electrical substation – that is, a point on the grid where power is converted from a higher to lower voltage (or the reverse) – are designed to last 40 years. The average age of transformers in North America is currently 42.

"You've got this aging infrastructure that isn't going away, and you can't just say you're not going to replace it. There's no choice but to replace it," says Marzio Pozzuoli, founder and CEO of Woodbridge-based RuggedCom Inc.

And that might come sooner than expected. President-elect Barack Obama has promised a major economic stimulus package that includes substantial investment in the U.S. transmission infrastructure, including smart-grid technologies. Similar talk is occurring around the world, including Canada, and companies such as RuggedCom are primed to benefit. "It all looks good for us," Pozzuoli says.

Joel Makower has a post at The Energy Collective on IBM's smart grid aspirations - Behind IBM's Quest for a 'Smarter Planet'.
IBM's recent campaign goes well beyond mere image — and beyond green — to envision a "smarter" world in which problems as wide-ranging as health care costs, energy and resource shortages, government inefficiency, threatened waterways, climate change, and traffic congestion can be addressed by a blend of systems thinking, technological innovation, and computing power. It's an intriguing campaign aimed at helping redefine IBM from its roots as a computer maker to its more recent incarnation as a self-described "global services company."

"Smarter Planet" isn't IBM's first foray into the green scene. In 2007, the company launched a program called Big Green Innovations to mine the company's vast wealth of expertise and technology to create products and services to help address customers' and society's environmental challenges. Big Green, a play on the company's longtime nickname, Big Blue, takes aim at everything from creating carbon dashboards to help lower companies' carbon emissions, to designing energy efficient data centers and more powerful solar cells. But it seemed more of an inward-looking effort, an attempt to collaborate with existing clients, and not a means of communicating with the marketplace. (You can listen to a 2007 interview I did on the topic with Sharon Nunes, who heads the Big Green Innovations program, and Wayne Balta, IBM's VP of Corporate Environmental Affairs.)

Recently, I talked to Rich Lechner, IBM's VP of Energy & Environment, and John Kennedy, its VP of Integrated Marketing Communications, to learn more about the "Smarter Planet" series — what was behind the ads and what the company hopes to accomplish from them. ... Lechner described the many environmental challenges that, he says, could be solved by "smarter" systems:
"In a world in which water, energy, power are severely constrained, you don't have to look far to see, for example, that only 30 percent of the potential electricity that's available at the energy source actually reaches the doorstep of the consumer. Or that significant amounts of traffic congestion are caused just by people circling, looking for empty parking spaces, wasting fuel. You can look at our distribution systems around the world and see that more than 20 percent of all the shipping containers and more than 25 percent of the trucks moving around on a global basis are empty. You look at the way that food is distributed and understand that the average carrot in the United States — the lowly carrot — has traveled 1,600 miles to get to your dinner table, and you say clearly something could be done to improve the efficiency of our food distribution system. And water: We're projecting that over a billion people won't have access to safe drinking water in just ten years time, and yet today, just five food and beverage companies consume enough water on an annual basis to serve the daily needs of everyone on the planet.

"We looked around and we said there's plenty of room for improvement and our expertise in IT [information technology] coupled with our deep industry knowledge and our ability to look at and re-engineer processes gave us a unique vantage point to comment on the need to exploit this growing intelligence and where the first opportunities for exploitation might exist."

The vision for "Smarter Planet" was laid out in a November 17, 2008, speech by IBM chairman and CEO Samuel J. Palmisano. "The world will continue to become smaller, flatter ... and smarter," he said. "We are moving into the age of the globally integrated and intelligent economy, society and planet. The question is, what will we do with that?"

The "Smarter Planet" ads — what Kennedy calls an "op-ad" campaign — are Palmisano's answer. They are designed "to get a reader to think about the world from a systems point of view, and along the way, describe these opportunities for systems," says Kennedy. Each week's ads cover a different topic: energy, traffic, food, infrastructure, retail, banking, and more.


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