Federal officials, electric utility execs, manufacturers and distributors, researchers, and a host of others from around the world have come to DC this week in honor of GridWeek, an annual gathering of "Smart Grid" stakeholders and thought leaders that is sponsored by DOE and the GridWise Alliance. NEMA is proud to be a co-sponsor. Judging by the size of the crowd and the quality of speakers — including a number of NEMA members — this is an issue whose time has come.
In its simplest form, our electrical grid really is nothing more than a supply and distribution system for electricity. Problem is, the infrastructure for this system is aging, susceptible to bad weather and human error, not easily accessible to all forms or energy, and not particularly efficient. What we need is a nationwide grid that is more energy efficient; monitors and predicts potential outages and is self-healing; offers real-time communications between suppliers and users; easily incorporates multiple types of power generation; and provides security from natural disruptions or human attacks. The folks who have come together this week at GridWeek are working to bring this about.
One major hurdle is creating interoperability (that is, integrating the components of the Smart Grid so they can work together and share information). NEMA's working on a NIST task force to ensure the development of standards to this effect, and our own John Caskey will discuss this today on a GridWeek panel discussion. Another key challenge, of course, is the cost. Modernizing the grid will involve upgrading the equipment and systems that generate electricity, transmit and distribute it, and use it — across the continent. The scope and scale of this transformation is huge. Still, as speakers at GridWeek pointed out, the aging equipment will have to be repaired and replaced anyway, and the new technologies that come with Smart Grid will actually reduce costs for utilities and consumers in the long run.