Will Consumers or Utilities Control the Future Power Grid?

Smart Grid Panel: Scott Henneberry (Schneider Electric), Larsh Johnson (eMeter) and Andrew J Tang (ABB Technology Ventures) join Clint Wheelock (Pike Research) at Green:Net 2011As energy becomes more decentralized (both generation and management), there’s a great opportunity for apps to help direct the flow of power. But at Green:Net on Thursday, Scott Henneberry, VP of Smart Grid Strategy of Schneider Electric, said, “The utility has a real challenge to make sure everyone on the distribution line has good, reliable power.” He pointed out pilot programs that allow utilities to have control over the inverter of a consumer’s electric-vehicle charger or solar photovoltaic panel. He added that when utilities have some level of control it is beneficial to everyone because then the utility can manage the energy throughout the smart grid.
Larsh Johnson, CTO of eMeter, said that solving the problem of unreliability due to decentralized energy, “ultimately comes down to financial transactions,” and that metering electricity will be key. Apps will have to keep track of who bought energy and who sold it at every point in the process — “effectively, what’s going on on a wholesale transmission level.” In this way, the smart grid will function like the wholesale energy trading market, but the trading will happen among utilities, power plants and consumers.
Utilities have a great opportunity to use the information they’re gathering from customer meters to operate their grid better, according to Johnson. Hennenberry described a new vision of demand response, sometimes called the killer app of the smart grid. “Because of deregulated marketplaces, demand response is moving toward a more real-time automated activity,” he said.
Renewable energy sources and electric vehicles are accelerating the need for smarter, faster and more automated demand response. As Andrew Tang, the managing director of ABB Ventures, pointed out, electric vehicles not only require a significant amount of energy, but because of people’s work commutes, the demand happens at peak times. Renewable energy sources are not as reliable as base load energy (nuclear, coal or natural gas sources), so Tang said utilities need to have spinning reserves for when those sources aren’t available. Johnson advocated an even more decentralized approach. “I’d argue for personal storage,” he said, so that “if I have solar panels on the roof, if the power fails, I can use it. That’s not the case now.”