Energy Efficiency, Monitoring

Smart Grids Get Smarter

Issue 5 and Volume 14.

Telecom giant Alcatel-Lucent, headquartered in France, has announced that it is teaming up with China’s State Grid Information & Telecommunication Company Ltd (SGIT) to help utilities manage peak electricity demand, identify opportunities for power savings and cut down on energy usage. The two companies plan to do this by increasing the intelligence in utilities’ power distribution systems, or “smart grids,” which allow the continuous measurement, monitoring, control and adjustment of power distribution.

Alcatel-Lucent and SGIT, a subsidiary of State Grid Corporation of China, will address some of the challenges related to smart grids, accessing data used to track energy usage from a plethora of devices including smart meters, analysing that data and delivering information to the utility. This information can then be used by utility companies to monitor and control demand and manage delivery.

These solutions will also provide the customers of utility companies with access to more reliable power distribution systems as well as information on their own power usage, allowing them to make educated decisions about their power consumption, for example changing their normal usage patterns to take advantage of lower pricing structures at off-peak times.

Meanwhile, the Gridwise Alliance, a U.S. coalition advocating the transformation of the electricity system, has released The US Smart Grid Revolution: Smart Grid Workforce Trends 2011, a new report that examines how the continued development and deployment of smart grids impacts on the electric energy industry workforce. The report, prepared by global consulting, testing and certification firm KEMA, stresses the important role education initiatives play in maximising improvements for all those connected to the electric system.

Smart grids allow for more efficient monitoring, control and adjustment of power distribution. (Source: Mapawatt)

In its key findings, KEMA discovered that continuous investment in the smart grid sector has expanded opportunities across the entire electric energy industry. This is crucial as job creation and the development of an industry native to the U.S. are national priorities. The report also concludes that the smart grid continues to be a primary example of a technological area that is ripe with opportunity and ready for continued innovation and creativity. In order to maximise its potential for economic growth, the report says, the U.S. must retrain current employees in the new, higher-level skills required to modernise the transmission and distribution grid.

The report emphasised that a successful organisational transition to the smart grid -and smart grid job creation and growth — must include retraining programmes, engineering and technical curricula, efforts to familiarise workers with smart grid technology and systems, and educating current students who will be the smart grid workforce of tomorrow.

In the utilities sector, the shifting requirements of existing jobs makes retraining the workforce a signficant priority, particularly for those utilities that are in the process of deploying smart grid solutions. While new jobs are being created, this retraining effort to enable current employees within the utility smart grid workforce to adapt and take on new roles is particularly active.

“This report takes the industry’s first comprehensive look at not only how the expansion of the smart grid will strengthen the American economy but also the critical steps America must take to ensure its workforce is prepared to maximise this new technology,” said GridWise Alliance Board liaison for the Education and Workforce Group, Randy Berry. “All levels of the electrical energy industry chain can learn from this report on how best to reform their efforts and equip their employees with new skills needed to achieve success with the transformed grid,” he added.

As an example, Vivint, one of the largest U.S. home automation companies, recently opened the first U.S. smart grid training center of its kind, designed to prepare technicians for full-scale deployment, including the installation of home area network (HAN) and load control devices, electric vehicle (EV) chargers and much more.

The 10,000 square foot (3048 m²) facility, located in Austin, Texas, also houses two fully equipped model smart homes outfitted with Vivint’s energy technologies. The company’s Vivint Smart Grid Solutions arm provides smart meter installation services for electric, gas and water automated meter reading and advanced meter infrastructure projects.

The future of the smart grid continues to be very strong, says the KEMA report, noting that investment continues to flow into businesses active in the smart grid sector, driving innovation, job creation and significant change.

Indeed, according to Microsoft’s 2011 Industry Survey, utilities are already moving from the planning to the deployment stage of smart grids, and budgets to support these efforts are consequently on the rise.