The dumb grid
HUNTINGTON BEACH, California – It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see that the future of electric utilities is in digitalization and renewables.
What’s far more difficult is sussing out the type and level of investment and speed at which utilities should proceed while continuing to deliver power with minimal interruption to a public increasingly turned off by fossil fuels.
Honestly, you almost have to take pity on the poor utility executive having to make these decisions. The very health of the planet is at stake, let alone P&L statements.
Believe in global warming or not, the grid needs upgrading, and, as I’m sure you’ve heard repeatedly, any failure on your part to do the disrupting means someone else will disrupt you.
Last week, I spent a couple of days in Boston at a Siemens energy industry analyst conference where the discussion included testimonials from utilities executives on how Siemens smart-grid technology was helping them cut costs and improve reliability.
If you run a big utility, there’s not a lot that’s new about that; I think we can go so far as to admit that even the phrase “smart grid” has gotten a bit shopworn. But what large and small utilities are still very much trying to figure out is what really works and, at the same time, how to minimize the pain for ratepayers, who are often left to shoulder the burden of keeping the grid humming.
The huge challenge of succeeding in that endeavor was made clear in a recently completed five-year public-private test project designed to build and test a regional smart grid in the Pacific Northwest.