Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Day Two of the National Smart Grid Conference: Mapping a path forwards

"Above all, it is for the common good."

These words were spoken by Father Spitzer, the president of Gonzaga University, at the end of the opening address he delivered to kick off the second and final day of the National Smart Grid Conference. Attendees seemed energized by his remarks (it was either that or the coffee, I'm not sure), and ready for the work ahead.

Before I get to the highlights of Day Two, I should mention that I've received a few emails from people who read my recap of Day One wondering that the term "smart grid" means. According to the Department of Energy, a smart grid is a means of delivering electric power that can:
  1. Enable active participation by consumers
  2. Accommodate all generation and storage options
  3. Enable new products, services, and markets
  4. Provide power quality for the range of needs in a digital economy
  5. Optimize asset utilization and operating efficiency
  6. Anticipate and respond to system disturbances in a self-healing manner
  7. Operate resiliently against physical and cyber-attacks, and natural disasters
Those are the principles that appear to comprise the definition that the industry is now using - or at least those companies in the industry based here in the Pacific Northwest, which are well represented at the conference.

Today's events were organized into panels, comprised of representatives from research, utility, and regulatory organizations. Some of the topics that were discussed included consumer engagement and privacy, software integration, and updating the building codes for the present and future - so that green buildings can take advantage of smart grid technology.

After the panel discussions, which incorporated audience participation in the form of questions and comments (all of which were recorded for use in creating the report to be presented to federal and regional governments), they were distilled down into a few points that were agreed upon by virtually everybody. Those were:

First, the need for a clear national and regional energy policy. Other countries have such policies, and without one, the United States is flailing in the dark as what to do, and everybody is doing their own thing which is counterproductive to implementing the smart grid. By having a clear policy, each of the players who have a hand in the program can see how what they are doing affects that policy and how their action contributes to it as a whole.

Second, the need for industry and the government to engage consumers in a meaningful way. One of the important elements of a smart grid is consumer participation, and plans need to be developed on how to enable such participation, ultimately giving consumers greater ability to control their energy usage.

Third, the need to integrate advances in technology so as to prevent future breakthroughs from disrupting implementation. In other words, the system needs to be adaptable to future energy needs. For example, it seems likely that more American families will own plug in hybrid and electric cars in the years ahead, which could put a strain on the grid if it wasn't designed for the future.

Fourth, the need to deploy workforce development programs to equip people with the skills needed to understand and operate new technology, creating new jobs along the way, and providing new career opportunities for the unemployed.

Other recommendations included changing our tax code to offer incentives for smart technology, retooling our regulatory framework to encourage innovation, and increasing research & development spending.

Senator Cantwell, not surprisingly, praised the recommendations, saying, that "we in the United States could become the leaders in the technology".

The finished report will be composed by a committee which will discuss the various ideas presented at the conference and will decide which ones will make it in to the final recommendations.

The report is supposed to be finished within ten working days. We'll be sure to post the link to it on In Brief when it is published.

The conference ended on a hopeful note. People are excited about the possibility of strengthening economic security and protecting our environment at the same time.

And they should be.

With a smart grid, it's possible for us to make progress towards both.


Post a Comment

<< Home