Trees, Squirrels, Storms, Earthquakes and Resilency vs. Smart Grid

Trees, Squirrels, Storms, Earthquakes and Resilency vs. Smart Grid

I’ve been involved with the smart grid for well over a decade and now that I have some freedom to pursue my own ideas some ideas have come to mind that I’d like to share.  Several years ago, in a land far, far away (San Diego), I was having lunch with a couple of power company execs.  I was the director of energy and sustainability research for Intel Labs at the time so was interested in their take on smart grid funding models.  What they told me still rings true today, 5 years later.  I’ll characterize these guys as West Coast Exec and East Coast Exec.

Q. Given available money to invest in your operation, would it be towards digital metering, sensing and analytics, grid infrastructure upgrades, or adding new generation?

A. East Coast Exec: Given extra money to spend we would put it towards tree removal and then making the T&D more physically resilient.  Our day to day headaches are due to falling trees and squirrels.  I tend to worry long term about weather like tornadoes and hurricanes.

A. West Coast Exec: I agree in general though I worry about earthquakes far more than my colleague here.  The flip side is weather happens regularly while earthquakes are sneaky bastards and don’t happen so much, but when they do, I deal with system wide issues.

Q. So, you have enough generation but not enough money to clear branches or to assure disaster resilience, correct?

A. Both Execs: Yep, that about sums it up.

Q. We have been talking a lot in the meetings today about the need for DER programs and load side sensing coupled with cloud analytics to allow higher penetration of wind and solar resources.  Do you buy into this premise?

A. Both Execs: Sure, it makes sense but it is not a proven, deploy-able technology solution and we are in a wait and see mode.  West Coast Exec: There will be a Smart Grid Demonstration Project being led out of the Pacific Northwest National Labs and its results will go a long way to making what you described a reality for us (note, this is now completed and deemed successful).  East Coast Exec: I agree but still have to deal with the realities of funding our priority items and number one is keeping the power on.

Q. So what can the tech industry give you today?

A: West Coast Exec: A way to monitor the health of our system that can be easily deployed and used.  East Coast Exec:  I want a solution, not pieces of technology, that is just too hard for me to deal with.  Both: Transmission line heating and sag, large transformer movement protection, distribution asset thermal monitoring are all areas that could benefit from new technologies and not be subject to consumer side regulations and their lengthy regulatory cycles.  If you can save us money there, perhaps we could have more to keep the branches and squirrels away!

Q.  What about an automated Squirrel and Tree Blasting Laser Beam? …