After Hurricane Sandy smarty-pants pundits like me suggested that maybe what we need right away is not a smarter, more agile grid but, rather, a really tough dumb grid. Indisputably, technologies integrating digital communications and computing into power system infrastructure were materializing much more slowly than their proponents had predicted, and measurable benefits were hard to find. But if the darkest is just before dawn, as the saying goes, then perhaps now the smart grid may at last be coming over the horizon.
- At the beginning of this week, Forbes energy blogger William Pentland took note of the acquisition by Toshiba of Consert, which he described as a San Antonio startup "chasing hard-to-tap value at the intersection of home energy automation and wholesale power markets." Pentland observed that Consert's demand-management system Virtual Peak Plant (or VPP) will be a nice complement to Toshiba's μEMS, a grid management system that responds to changes in consumption as monitored in real time. Earlier, Toshiba acquired the top smart meter maker Landis+Gyr.
- In an earlier post, Pentland cited several reputable studies indicating that "engineered resilience" and distributed smart power will be a big part of the answer to the growing problem of major outages and mega-disasters like Sandy. Quoting numbers from the University of Minnesota's Massoud Amin, editor of the IEEE's smart grid e-newsletter, Pentland noted that the number of big U.S. outages more than doubled from the first half of the last decade to the second.
- In the latest issue of the IEEE newsletter, published on Wednesday this week, the U.S. Department of Energy's Joseph Paladino describes some recent findings from 99 projects initiated four years ago in DOE's $7.8-billion Smart Grid Investment Program. Though some of the benefits—lower energy use and costs as a result of demand-response programs, for example—will strike some readers as modest, at least some of those benefits are now measurable and predictable. Utilities and energy companies will proceed with larger investments, knowing more about the returns they can expect.
Not least among the last weeks' positive indicators: President Obama's plea in his State of the Union address for a "self-healing grid," made in the context of his overall pitch for much greater spending for infrastructure improvement. It was nice to hear, especially coming so soon after the outgoing energy secretary's farewell talk, in which Chu neglected to include the words "smart grid" even once in his 3750-word peroration.