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Insights: Smart Cities Face Big Obstacles

May 17, 2016 00:00 AM UTC
- Updated April 30, 2020 20:01 PM UTC

Redesigning how our current electrical grid works is the main challenge. (May 2016)

HOST: How much smarter does the power grid have to be to accommodate some of that energy storage technologies are distributed solar energy? SUSAN KENNEDY: Right now, it doesn't have to be a lot smarter in order to be able to solve some of the problems that Nick just mentioned. We're dealing with four major clients right now that have put in a whole bunch of solar. And if you don't size the solar properly, you can create massive voltage problems on your campus, big university campuses. That's one. Number 2, you have customers that are net metering. They've put on solar. And so at the middle of the day, their load drops and they're net metering, their solar. At the end of the day, when the sun stops shining, their load shoots back to the grid. So not only are they caught that very, very expensive. But that means that for every ton of carbon they think they're saving by taking this all off the grid, they're actually adding one or two tons of carbon because he has to build a peak of plant in order to be ready for when their load shoots back to the grid. So the first level of smart is simply controlling your demand, using energy storage. So it has both a salutary effect on your costs and on the environment, but also it allows the distribution planners to not have to build that extra redundant layer. That doesn't take a lot of smart. So that's just smart deployment. JOHN WOOLARD: Let me put a little more pressure on Nick and the utilities on where the grid needs to be because it's decent right now. It works well. It is an impressive machine. And we're not-- I can't forecast a future without it. But it does need to get smarter, it needs to be more dynamic, it needs to have more bidirectional control. We need to have better demand response and better interaction. We've got the biggest connected battery in the world is the US Building Stock with a lot of thermal inertia in it. We don't use it, we don't manage it, and so till devices are IP addressable and networked and really used in a way that's more dynamic, we're not there yet. So I think, Susan's right that you can do things today that are smart, but it can and should continue to improve. But the network is a very-- we're a network-focused company and the concept of living without the network and being off on your own with your solar and your battery storage is, I think, somebody you Alex yesterday said it was an intellectually lazy argument. You're not going to be like a cell phone because a cell phone doesn't operate by itself. Cell phone is part of a network. And it's a function of how many other users are on that network that makes it more valuable. And so I think the network matters, the network needs to improve. It can get better, but it's absolutely key to have a dynamic network that enables-- there are two things. There's a strategic discussion and a tactical discussion. The strategic piece should be how robust and dynamic can and should the network be. And what are the market signals on that network you know. It's not just energy, but it's capacity and reliability. And the tactical piece is now what do I build, what do I do, where do you put storage, where do you put all these pieces. That you need to solve that strategic piece first. And it's, we've got a good start is the good news. But we've got a ways to go.