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Panel pushes intelligent devices for smart grid

Posted: 25 Jun 2010     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:smart grid  energy efficiency  smart meter 

A technology panel sees the smart grid beyond the distribution system and smart meters to include devices that drawing the power. That could spell new business opportunities for appliance manufactures.

Smart grid should remove the complexity from achieving the energy efficiency efforts, according to members of the Smart Grid Panel.

Intel Corp. touted that human smarts as a quick cure for energy efficiency, showing a smart-energy sensor at its Developer Forum that allows consumers to optimise their own energy consumption by monitoring and adjusting usage manually. But in a nation [United States] that has freely embraced the "For Dummies" model of knowledge distribution, the smart grid should likewise remove the necessity for deep thinking from energy efficiency efforts, according to members of the Smart Grid Panel at the Freescale Technology Forum.

"There may be a few early adopters who want to show off that they can turn their lights off at home with an app on their cell phone, but the average person wants energy efficiency without having to think about it," said Andres Carvallo, executive VP of Grid Net. "That's the promise that the smart grid holds."

The smart grid, according to the panel moderated by Freescale senior VP Henri Richard, involves not only the electrical distribution system and smart meters, but also the devices that will be drawing the power. In a coordinated effort of electricity suppliers, local distribution networks and manufactures of appliances and electric cars, within 10 years most of the United States will become optimally energy-efficient, according to panel members, who maintained that it is necessary to remove the manual control proposed by Intel from the equation, because people "don't want to be bothered with complexity."

"It has to be simple," said Britta Gross, director global energy systems at General Motor Corp. "Over and over again people have told us that they want to be energy efficient, but don't want to have to fuss with complexity."

Consequently, General Motor's new all-electric Chevy Volt—which can be recharged in about three hours—will be mated to a smart energy recharging station that is set by the user to start charging at a certain time, but which includes underlying smart algorithms which override the user's time-slot selection in order to prevent overloading the grid.

"We of course give users the ability to opt-out, but we believe most people will be happier by letting our recharger choose the time and rate of recharging so as not to overload the grid," said Gross.

Cutting electricity bills
It's not just overloading the grid that will determine time and rate of recharging, according to the panel. Users are also willing to give up manual control of their household appliances if it means their electricity bill will be radically less than it would be under Intel's proposed used of manual control.

"Our new smart appliances will allow users to select not just to time-shift, say, when their electric dryer kicks on, but also to optimise for cost, too," said John Knoght, global technical programme manager for Whirlpool's Smart Grid Programme. "We believe that consumers will be happy to let the appliance choose the time it kicks on if it saves on their utility bills."

Bell Labs is also contributing to smart grid design, and is currently interviewing to hire 50 new engineering doctorates whose job will be to find ways to increase energy efficiency not only the networks serving the smart grid, but for networks in general.

"Network traffic is doubling every three years, but the energy they are drawing is growing at a much slower rate, because engineers are making them more efficient," said Suresh Boyal, a distinguished technical staff member of Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs. "In five years, we estimate that technology will make energy consumption about 1,000x more efficient than it is today."

Of course, Intel's proposed manual solution to energy efficiency—giving users the information they need to make informed choices—can be implemented with today's technology. The smart grid, smart meters and smart appliances along with all the necessary infrastructure changes advocated by the panel will take 10 to 15 years to achieve its full potential, according to the panelists.

- R. Colin Johnson
EE Times

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