Already tired of Smart Grid ?

Ngram and Trends

In a previous post, you can see the Ngram of the words “smart grid” (see next figure). It shows the rise of the “Smart Grid” concept, which appears in 2004.

ngram-smart grid

But unfortunately, data is only available until 2008. luckily, another tools from Google gives the trend of the use of the words “Smart Grid” from 2004 until today. Simply called “Trends“, this tool creates graph reflecting how many searches have been done for a particular term, relative to the total number of searches done on Google over time. Applied on “Smart Grid”, the resulting graph is the following.

Trends-smart grid

Rise and fall

The exponential increase of the relative use of the words “Smart Grid” from 2005  is confirmed. But it stops shortly after, in 2009. Then, a small but sustained decrease took place until today. Why? The curve does not give any answer. But it shows that people lost interest in it. Smart Grid is not hype anymore.

A meaningless concept used to sell

TruthI already explained in a previous post that there is not one definition of the term “Smart Grid”, but as many as there are people trying to define it. Nobody knows what is it. Sorry, it is not correct:  everybody knows it, but everybody has another understanding (it is philosophically the same. There is no “True” Smart Grid).

Companies are selling products labeled “Smart Grid”. To market their products, they foster their own vision of the smart grid, a narrow one, the one that better fits their interest and the promotion of their products. Being more and more exposed to this kind of misleading advertising, customers (who are not as stupid as marketers wish) slowly understand that it is not directly interesting for them to invest in this kind of Smart Grid technologies.

Smart Meters is the most telling example how utilities try to convince their clients to pay for a tool they don’t need, but that the utility need, resulting in higher electricity bills. I’ve already explained this in detail in previous posts. Utilities’ “clever” idea is that customers pay at their place for investments they should make on their own.

Many observers of the sector reach similar conclusions. Even, if the majority remains optimistic, like in the article “Fear of Smart Grid Stall-Out“.

Promising but abused 

IDCSmart Grid market is expected to reach $80.6 billion in 2016 from $22.8 billion in 2011, according to MarketsAndMarkets. Navigant Research (previously Pike Research), meanwhile, is forecasting a growth from $33 billion annually in 2012 to $73 billion by the end of 2020. According to IDC Energy Insights, smart grid spending will reach nearly $46.4 Billion worldwide in 2015., at its turn, estimated world smart grid sales to $36.5 billion in 2012, a growth of 30% on 2011. These values demonstrate that opportunities in Smart Grid market are huge.

MarketsAndMarketsBut they also demonstrate, again, that nobody knows what Smart Grid means. If you look at these reports, you will discover that these companies have different definitions, which explains that not only forecast, but also past market values, are quite different from one analyst to the other. I am surprised that people referencing such analysis, in particular journalists, are not shocked by these incoherences.

NavigantBy Misusing the concept of Smart Grid, companies therefore risk to kill the goose that lays the golden egg. As I always explain in my posts about Smart Grid, I don’t say that Smart Grid tools are not useful, on the contrary. But I criticise the way companies and utilities are using the term and cheating customers, consciously or unintentionally.

Our prediction

PredictionsSmart Grid market will continue to enjoy two digits growth, even if we don’t know what it represents exactly. Analysts will continue to give completely different estimations and forecasts, and nobody will seem to care about this incoherence.

More and more companies will use the term Smart Grid, even for products they sell already since many years, even before the concept was created.

Consumer organisations, new or existing, will criticise the fact that electricity bills are every years higher. Sorry to tell it, but you will pay more for electricity. Smart Grid will be blamed, even if it is responsible for only a small share of the price increase. Consumers will be lost. Many will then understand that the Smart Grid is in fact not so smart?

Then, I hope that the terms Smart Grid will slowly disappear, leaving the place to clear and understandable terms, like Information, Communication & Electricity Technologies (ICET).

Gauthier Dupont
Dupont Energy Consulting GmbH

My definition of “Smart Grid”

Why am I in the right position to define the terms “Smart Grid”

As explained in a previous post, nobody can boast about being the father of the Smart Grid concept. No organization, no expert, did succeed in imposing his own definition. I probably won’t, like my predecessors, but I cannot help but try my chance.

Three for the price of one

Not one, but three definitions are proposed. Each of them is adapted to different type of reader:

  • Catch phrase” or “tag line”: understandable by anybody and easy to remember.
  • One phrase definition: brief functional definition.
  • One page definition: detailed functional definition with Smart Grid’s key success factors, characteristics and domain of activity in which high performances have to be achieved. The format is purposely based on lists to make the reading easier.

Catch phrase definition

The Smart Grid is the vision of the grid of the future, optimally efficient, economic, reliable, secure, safe, flexible and sustainable.

One phrase definition

The Smart Grid is the vision of a highly automated and interconnected network where power, information and knowledge flow bi-directionally through intelligent systems to transparently serve all stakeholders and users, enabling high performances in planning, operation and maintenance with optimal efficiency and reliability, at lowest cost and in a reliable, secure and safe manner without harming the environment.

Detailed definition

The Smart Grid is the vision of a highly automated and interconnected network where power, information and knowledge flow bi-directionally through intelligent systems to transparently serve all stakeholders and users, enabling high performances in planning, operation and maintenance with optimal efficiency and reliability, at lowest cost and in a reliable, secure and safe manner without harming the environment.

Domains of activity in which high performances have to be achieved are:

  • Planning
  • Operation (normal mode, emergency and restoration)
  • Maintenance.

The key success factors of a well deployed Smart Grid are to make the grid more:

  1. Efficient
  2. Economic
  3. Reliable
  4. Secure
  5. Safe
  6. Flexible
  7. Sustainable.

A well deployed Smart Grid practically:

  1. Is self-healing (anticipate and respond to system disturbance)
  2. Enables active participation by consumers
  3. Is resilient against attack and natural disaster
  4. Provides power quality for the digital economy
  5. Accommodates all generation and storage options, including electrical cars
  6. Relies on transparent processes
  7. Optimizes assets
  8. Achieves perfect dispatch (Automated optimal operation)
  9. Is environmentally friendly.

The key technologies to allow the implementation of Smart Grid are:

  1. Integrated communications
  2. Advanced control
  3. Sensing and measurement
  4. Advanced decision support
  5. Advanced network components
  6. Integration with generation and end-use.

Gauthier Dupont
Dupont Energy Consulting GmbH

Why is it so difficult to define “Smart Grid”?

Two simple words, many definitions

For the US Department of Energy, Smart grid generally refers to a class of technology people are using to bring utility electricity delivery systems into the 21st century, using computer-based remote control and automation., the gateway to information on federal initiatives that support the development of the technologies, policies and projects transforming the electric power industry, tell us that the Smart Grid is a developing network of transmission lines, equipment, controls and new technologies working together to respond immediately to our 21st Century demand for electricity.

There is a dispute on Wikipedia. In the main article, a Smart Grid is defined as a digitally enabled electrical grid that gathers, distributes, and acts on information about the behavior of all participants (suppliers and consumers) in order to improve the efficiency, reliability, economics, and sustainability of electricity services.

For the Smart Grid News, the Smart Grid isn’t a thing but rather a vision and to be complete, that vision must be expressed from various perspectives – its values, its characteristics, and the milestones for achieving it.

Many other definitions are proposed.

Why is it so difficult to define it?

First, we don’t know who invents the term. No one can then pretend to have the original definition. It seems that it appears simultaneously in Europe and in the US in 2004. The following Ngram shows that it was first used in books in 2001. But its usage really began in 2006.

Second, the call for a smarter grid does not come from the power sector itself. It is external constraints and needs that pushed the concept forward:

  • Economy & market
  • Renewable energy sources
  • Protection of the environment
  • Politic.

If we add the aging of electrical infrastructures in the US, which time to time causes blackout like the Northeast blackout of 2003 which affected 10 millions people, as well as the Plug-in Electric Vehicles (PEV) that should be soon supplied by millions, the list is completed.

The move towards smarter grids is more a reaction to threads than an action to improve.

Third, it became a marketing slogan. Any new product is now labelled smart grid. Even new version of old products, without major improvement.

Fourth, the term smart can be differently interpreted. The use of such a vague concept doesn’t help. It sounds like a marketing tagline.

Difficult is not synonym of impossible

In another article, we will propose our definition. It is not a simple task, but we will see together that by broaden the vision, the definition becomes obvious (I hope).

Gauthier Dupont