Event Review: FOCUS: Smart Grid 2014
Experts discussed smart grid technology, which has the capacity to propel the energy industry into a new era of reliability, availability, and efficiency.
• Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany New York
• German American Chambers of Commerce, Inc. (GACC)
• UAS7 German Universities of Applied Sciences
• The Urban Institute
• German Center for Research and Innovation
A panel of experts from the Cologne University of Applied Sciences, Consolidated Edison Company, and Smarter Grid Solutions convened at the German Center for Research and Innovation in New York for a panel discussion on smart grid technology. A smart grid has the capacity to propel the energy industry into a new era of reliability, availability, and efficiency as well as the potential to have a positive impact on the economy and the environment. In addition, a smarter grid can empower consumer engagement in a myriad of ways, including improving awareness of energy usage and providing customers opportunities to become energy producers themselves.
Following introductory remarks by Dr. Joann Halpern, Director of the German Center for Research and Innovation (GCRI), the evening’s moderator Jeremiah Miller, Senior Analyst at Smarter Grid Solutions, welcomed guests and speakers to the GCRI’s fifth annual “FOCUS: Smart Grid”event. Prof. Dr. Ingo Stadler, Professor of Renewable Energies and Energy Economics at the Cologne University of Applied Sciences, kicked off the evening by providing his definition of a “smart grid”: a system that facilitates the interaction between an information grid, an electricity grid, and energy metering. Prof. Dr. Stadler noted that while the term “smart grid” is usually limited to dialogue on energy, the concept of “smart systems” also encompasses the heating and transportation sectors. This concept will play an important role in future discussions as more individual systems are integrated into one large-scale, intelligent system. Combining the different sectors would also help lower costs, as electricity storage, for example, is much more expensive than heat storage.
Prof. Dr. Stadler then focused on smart grid technology in Germany. While the country has a long history of primarily relying on nuclear energy and fossil fuels, it seeks to steadily reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, increase its production and consumption of renewable energy, and shut down all nuclear power plants by 2022 as part of its “Energiewende” policy. Because the existing grid was not designed to support the new system that is emerging as a result of these changes, some major adjustments will be required. As building an entirely new grid would neither be profitable nor take advantage of the pre-existing system, Prof. Dr. Stadler stressed that Germany “needs to make this transition by using the old infrastructure.” One possible approach to utilizing the pre-existing grid is by transforming it into a smart grid.
Prof. Dr. Stadler provided examples of this transformation by describing the advantages and disadvantages concerning the use of photovoltaics as well as the implementation of a smart metering infrastructure. In Germany, many renewable energy sources like photovoltaics are not located near the existing grid; most often they are located in rural areas. As a consequence, it is difficult to connect these energy sources to the grid. On the other hand, photovoltaics offer a great opportunity for individuals to become energy producers by covering their own demand and feeding surplus energy back into the grid. This may lead to an exchange of energy that allows people to become both consumers and producers. While there are currently restrictive regulations on this kind of energy flow, a smart grid would allow an exchange of energy without endangering the stability of the system.
Furthermore, Prof. Dr. Stadler noted the great potential for smart metering infrastructures. While metering in Germany is currently conducted manually for each household and usually separately for gas, water, and electricity, with smart grid technology, all systems could be integrated into one system and metering could be done remotely and digitally, which would benefit energy companies and customers alike.
Margarett Jolly, Director of Research and Development at Con Edison, then spoke about how Con Edison is currently undergoing changes that will affect how energy will be delivered and how customers will interact with it going forward. While the relationship between Con Edison and its customers is currently a one-way model, the company expects this relationship to become more dynamic in the future. One key change that Ms. Jolly predicts is that some customers will not just be energy consumers, but they will also assume the role of energy producers, making it necessary for Con Edison to adapt to these circumstances. Con Edison also expects customers to become more interested in being involved in following the details of their personal energy consumption. Consequently, the company seeks to provide more opportunities for individuals to engage with Con Edison and to enable them to actively monitor their own energy usage, which may change consumption habits. In this context, Ms. Jolly described the company’s future vision of an interactive plug-and-play platform that would integrate the needs of energy consumers and producers while also enabling an exchange of information between Con Edison and its customers.
Ms. Jolly then cited one of the key challenges facing the realization of this vision, namely the current restrictions with regards to energy storage. She noted that what “is unique about electricity is that it is delivered in real-time,” i.e. that electricity must be generated at the same time as it is produced. Any excess electricity can only be stored by converting it into another form of energy. This is where the smart grid comes into play. “The grid potentially is a very powerful resource,” Ms. Jolly remarked, explaining that a smarter grid could integrate smart meters with detailed information about energy production and consumption and operate very quickly to clear an energy imbalance or to contain other issues on the grid. It could also provide Con Edison and its customers with the kind of information and technology needed to achieve the company’s vision of an interactive energy platform.
Following both presentations, Mr. Miller initiated a lively discussion with the speakers and the audience on the future of smart grid technology. Issues addressed ranged from the environmental benefits of smart grids to the future of smart homes and energy regulation. The various ways in which individuals can engage with a smart grid and the possible consequences of energy consumers generating their own energy was also discussed.