A smarter, greener, grid

Alix Paultre, Editorial Director, PSD



We are in a transition phase between two epochs of history; the end of the fossil-fuel dominance of society, and the start of a multi-layered green energy economy. This transition, as all change can be, is painful, but necessary if we are to achieve both the functional advances of a smart integrated grid and an improved environment.

First let’s recognize that fossil fuels will not be going away. Period. There will be a role for fossil fuels for the foreseeable future. Oil isn’t going to be eliminated by solar and wind in the same way the horse was not eliminated by the car, nor the candle by the light bulb. There will be a significant reduction in the scope of fossil fuel use in the market, as alternate energy solutions continue to expand to address all available application niche.

One thing to remember is that silicon-based solutions have eventually dominated every market they have entered. There is not a single market or application space where the silicon solution wasn’t able to dominate the mainstream and drive the previous solutions into niche applications mostly based on nostalgia. In the case of fossil fuels, we already hear the arguments that e-vehicles don’t sound or smell right, neither criteria for automotive handling, speed, reliability, or safety.

Solid-state systems have such advantages in manufacturing cost, performance, form factor, and robustness that older electromechanical and electrical systems just can’t compete. In the case of energy and the grid, the only reason fossil fuels even have a chance of competition going forward is that they already control the energy market and are obstructing next-generation energy development.

But the Smart Grid is about much more than where the power is coming from. The Smart Grid is also about integrating and managing that energy to ensure optimal service and availability. Balancing wind, solar, and fossil-fuel energy generation (and eventually geothermal and possibly fusion) with consumption requirements while providing the most in functionality and safety is the goal. As the Cloud and IoT expand into industrial spaces, municipalities, and the grid, we will gain more and more tools to better monitor, evaluate, and manage energy use.

Properly done, a national-level Smart Grid will save people mind-boggling amounts of money on a grand scale, enhancing service, increasing reliability, and reducing costs for everyone at every level. Done poorly, and it will become an albatross on the neck of society, a confusing web of local grids, ordinances, technologies, and services.

In addition to the issues involved, add to that the dark side of increased capability for household monitoring by marketing companies and other organizations. There are a lot of people hot to use the Big Data of the grid to further their ends. We need to be careful how we move forward with the grid, as it is a delicate construction that could develop in completely different ways than we expect.