Smart grid: let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater

Despite the end-of-school-year mania, I managed to get away to  the 2017 IEEE Innovative Smart Grid Technologies conference in Washington, DC, in late April, to talk about the Smart Grid grad course that I was wrapping up at UT. I participated in a panel, “Innovations in Smart Grid Education,” chaired by Dr. Kenneth Lutz of the University of Delaware, with participants from MIT, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champain, Wichita State University, and Clemson University.

I talked about the Smart Grid grad course I taught at UT this semester, making the point that “smart grid” discussions in practice are often focused on the distribution system and end-use, despite typical definitions in the literature being more general. I took an expansive definition in this class, including transmission and generation, for example, which also allowed me to invite colleagues from ERCOT and Oncor to participate.

Why do I use an expansive definition in my pedagogy?

Because the phrase “smart grid” implies that the existing grid is stupid. In fact, for many years in North America and elsewhere, operation of the transmission grid has been incredibly sophisticated — far more sophisticated than any other infrastructure system I’m aware of.

When we focus only on making the distribution grid smart, we risk throwing the baby out with the bathwater, by not building on the existing smarts in the transmission system.

In terms of pedagogy, this means students need to be aware of the entire grid, both smart and not-so-smart, in order to avoid a skewed perspective on the electricity system. As we look toward solving problems such as integrating high levels of distributed solar PV, we need to remember that the existing transmission and generation system provides the foundational infrastructure.

Click here to download my full presentation.

Highlights of the course include an overview of architecture of the smart grid, the generation and transmission system, distribution systems, and end-use. The strongest common theme: we are all searching for a good textbook!

About Ross Baldick

Electricity is an increasingly complex industry in the midst of transition to renewables and decarbonization. Using my 25 years’ experience as an engineer, policy analyst, and academic, I help my consulting clients think through their toughest technical challenges and formulate their best business strategies.
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One Response to Smart grid: let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater

  1. I don’t mind making the electric utility system smart, but not so smart it can be easily hacked or so complicated is can fail catastrophically.

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