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

The first NAS batteries project after the fire incident of Sept. 2011

NGK resumes NAS batteries projects

In a previous post in last August, we have predicted that NGK Insulators‘ NAS batteries production shall resume in October 2012. The prediction is relatively correct: NGK has just announced the launch of its first implementation project since the fire incident that occurred on September 21, 2011.

Smart Grid Demonstration Project

1 MW of NAS batteries will be part of a Smart Grid demonstration project in Los Alamos, New Mexico. The information was simultaneously released on September 18th, 2012, by NGK Insulators and New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO).

We have updated the list of NAS Battery Storage Systems accordingly.

The project aims to:

  • Expand the introduction of new energy
  • Promote energy conservation efforts and leading-edge technologies based on Japanese know-how, including large-scale stationary batteries for power grids and energy management systems
  • Contribute to international standardization activities for smart grid systems, which are steadily progressing on a global scale
  • Further promote the dissemination of Japanese smart grid technologies throughout the world.

The silver lining in the fire incident

Like for any incident, there are positive aspects afterwards.

Now, NAS batteries systems are safer. Not only thanks to a reinforced design, but especially because of the increased awareness of the real danger of such technology. They were neither an explosion, as many opponents predicted, nor toxic gas emissions, nor toxic liquid release. On an environmental point of view the fire incident proved that NAS batteries have a low impact.

“Only” a big fire, destroying the complete plant, but without any casualty. So the worst case is to lose the assets. This risk can be covered by a good insurance. As explained in a previous post, in order to prevent the spread of fire, NGK improved the design, the safety measures and the facilities organisation. When the next fire will take place, it is likely that the fire would be contained to the failed module or to a few, but the rest of the plant would be saved.


Please do not misunderstand us. When we write “when the next fire will take place”, we are not pessimistic, but realistic. Fire incidents will occur, for sure. The risk zero does not exist. NGK did understand that, and reacted accordingly by concentrating their efforts on fire spread prevention. A clever move.

Now that NGK’s NAS batteries are back in business, it is time to turn the page and look at the future. It is the last time we mention the fire incident,… until the next one (we hope as late as possible).

Gauthier Dupont
Dupont Energy Consulting GmbH

The Smart Grid is dead. Long live the ICET !

The term Smart Grid is too controversial, then forget it

Since years we didn’t succeed to properly define what the Smart Grid is. There is not agreement about its definition. I’ve started to collect some reference to illustrate here my point of view, but they are so numerous that it would be unfair to select just a few. Crawl on internet, read books, articles and blogs on the subject and you will observe it from your own eyes.

When a term is too difficult to define, it means that it does not correspond to something real. It is a vague concept, a dream, or a vision as I’ve personally defined in a previous post.

Why should we continue to use this fuzzy concept? Just drop it!

We should say ICET instead

One tendency is clear in the Smart Grid nebula: the concept always includes the use of Information & Communication Technologies (ICT) in the electricity sector (as defined in Wikipedia for instance). In fact it is more than that. The right word should be integration instead of use.

Let’s consider the communication system needed to allow Smart Meters to communicate with utilities’ control centres. Thank to Power Line Carriage (PLC) the same cable can be used to transmit electricity and information at the same time. If going wireless, utilities have to invest in GPRS/3G/4G (or similar technology) infrastructure, or to be a client (a big one) of a telecom Co.

If Smart Meters’ full capabilities are exploited, they have to continuously communicate with utilities’ control centre, exchanging huge amount of data. The need for communication is then so high that utilities and telecom Co’s will have a strong economic interest to develop intense synergies. On the long-term, synergies will lead to merger, then forming a company delivering both electricity and communication services (wireless and/or through electric cables). Integration of electricity into the ICT sector shall form the ICET sector, for Information, Communication & Electricity Technologies.

There is also another advantage of not using anymore the term Smart Grid: there will be no discussion anymore to know if a grid is dumb or smart. There are so many useless discussion about this. It is a shame to lose so much time in futile debates.


Electricity and information will flow in the same cable everywhere, like it is already the case with USB cables for instance. Internet connection will be ubiquitous not only thanks to wireless technologies like Wi-Fi, but also via electric cables. When you will plug your laptop in the wall socket, it will not only get electricity to recharge, but also an internet connection.

The owner of the socket will not charge you for internet, like he already doesn’t for charging your laptop. Today everybody has everywhere access to electricity (expect in poor region in developing countries). Tomorrow everybody will have everywhere access to internet (I hope even in poor region).

Call for support

I then propose that we all use the new acronym ICET instead of Smart Grid.

If you like the proposal, then do it. Don’t say anymore Smart Grid. And tell you colleagues and friends to do so.

If you disagree. Please explain us why. Feel free to comment.

Thank you all in advance for your active contribution to the debate.

Gauthier Dupont
Dupont Energy Consulting GmbH

Language usage revealing business trends

The name of the game

Google Books Ngram Viewer, launched in December 2010, displays a graph showing how phrases have occurred in a corpus of 5.2 million digitized books (about 4% of all books ever printed) from the 16th century until 2008. It is fun, but not only. It can reveal cultural trends, based on language usage. The Ngram of the words “nursery school”, “kindergarten” and “child care” given on google website is a good example.

Originally, the name n-gram comes from a model sequence used in statistic since 60 years. The concept is not new, but internet capabilities give it a second go.

The game of the name

Now, just try it. Type words and look at the curve. A plethora of website already exploited the tool, just for fun or for scientific purposes.

A hint before playing with it: Ngram is case-sensitive. For instance, one get more hits when the words “facebook” and “google” are written with a capital letter. In “When OCR Goes Bad: Google’s Ngram Viewer & The F-Word“, other issues concerning the limits of the model are addressed.

To be sure we can use Google Ngram with confidence, my scientific education recall me we have first to check that the model correctly depicts language usage. One simple idea to do it: let’s look at the Ngram of the most common words. A priori, the curves shall be relatively flat (see next figure). Most of them are, but some aren’t!

I am not a native english speaker, nor a linguist. But I think it can be explained why the occurrence of the words “the” and “of” decreases. Look at next figure for instance. I let you do the rest of the job by yourself.

So, we have (more or less) checked the model. Now, we can start using it.

Ngram usage for business

My intention here is to show some examples how Google Ngram can be utilized to improve business and marketing analysis. The method is based on following axioms:

  1. Google Ngram model correctly depicts language usage.
  2. Language and culture strongly influence each other.
  3. Culture and business are strongly related.
  4. The Ngram occurrence of the name of a company is proportional to its business visibility.
  5. Ngram helps marketers to choose the right word among synonyms.

Maybe these axioms are not always true, or not completely true. But let’s imagine they are and let’s see then what it implies.

Note that visibility can be negative or positive. Ngram does not make any difference between the two.

Example 1 – The rise of Goldman Sachs

Next figure shows that occurrence of names of top consulting firms increases to peak between 2001 and 2006. On the contrary, the occurrence of the words “Goldman Sachs” made an outstanding leap in 2008. Can it be interpreted as the rise of the investment management firm, which succeeded to take over the political power in some European countries?

Example 2 – Microsoft

Following figure shows the occurrence of the word “Microsoft” along with its share price on the stock market. The two curves present a similar pattern, both indicating the slowdown of Microsoft.

The comparison with Google and Facebook displayed on next figure completes the analysis. But one has to mention that Microsoft still leads the race. How much longer? It is a shame Google Ngram data is available only until 2008. Else we would have a better overview. Note that in 2008 the word “IBM” was still more frequently used in books than “Facebook”. It is today certainly not the case anymore.

Example 3 – The fleeting NetPC

In 1996, I attended a conference on NetPC, a PC without local storage devices. We were told it was the future. It didn’t happen, as following Ngram tragically demonstrates.

Example 4 – Be smart: write “smart”!

Words play a major role in marketing. Google NGram helps marketers to choose them.

In the electricity sector, the term “smart grid” is excessively used. Nobody knows neither what it means exactly, nor where it comes from. Did you ever heard of a dumb grid before? It doesn’t matter. Every company active in the electricity sector is now widely using it. But it is no accident that the word “smart” was used. The trend was already there. According to the following Ngram It was top-notch to use “smart grid”, instead of “intelligent grid” or “clever grid”. Why not “cunning grid” or “ingenious grid”?

This Ngram reveals us a more global fashion: do not hesitate to use the words “intelligent”, “smart” and other synonyms. They are really trendy since 2000. Look at the number of companies and products using the word “smart”: smartphone, Smartbook (not a success story), SmartBank, SmartLaw, Smart Client Software Factory from Microsoft, SmartFuel, SmartCellar, SmartDivorce (they dare it!), smart bomb (is it anything smart concerning bombs?), etc.

Type “smart” in Google or Bing, you get two times more hits than for “Obama”. Vote “smart”!

A last one before leaving

I let you meditate upon the next Ngram. Chicken or egg?

There is no moral of the story 

I don’t try to pretend that the examples demonstrate any general theory. But many curves produced with Ngram, like the previous ones, trigger off a “I knew it!” Indeed, many Ngram confirm what many of us already know. But sometime they don’t. There is clearly something in it, but what exactly?

Gauthier Dupont
Dupont Energy Consulting GmbH

Smarter smart meters from Belgium

Belgium innovates

On 1st of March the Belgian utilities Electrabel launched in collaboration with fifthplay a new kind of smart meters. The basic idea is simple, but great and innovative. The proposed system enables end consumers to individually monitor, visualize, analyze and control the consumption of their electrical devices. Compared to common smart meters, which measure the total household consumption, it creates real added value.It is not strictly speaking a smart meter because it does not

replace the existing meter (analog or digital); it does not meter total household consumption and measures cannot be used for invoices. Functionally it is a domotic installation. But its use is smart grid and energy efficiency oriented. As it smartly meters consumer’s consumption, it deserves the title.

Electrabel is the historical utilities in Belgium, now part of the french holding GDF Suez.

Fifthplay is a tech co fully owned by Niko Group, a Belgian holding owned by the family De Backer. The original company Niko founded in 1919 and led today by the third generation is specialized in domotic solutions.

A new kind of smart meter

The design is nice and actual. Inspired by Apple? Anyway, it’s a good reference.


The system includes:

  • Smart energy plugs
  • An internet gateway
  • A web application (for computer, tablet and smartphone).

This video clearly explains the concept, in French, sorry. Or check this one, in Flemish, if you prefer. Some info in English can be found here. More videos in French and Flemish here.

Smart Energy Plug

Smart energy plugs placed between the wall socket and the plug measure the consumption of individual electrical devices. Measurements are wirelessly sent to the internet gateway, which stores info and send it periodically to a remote server via internet (every 15 min). Through a web application or App, the end consumer can then:

  • Remotely monitor real-time consumption (15 min)
  • Program smart energy plugs (timer)
  • Remotely switch on and off smart energy plugs
  • Receive a warning via sms or e-mail in case of a sudden, unforeseen change in consumption.

An expensive gadget

Nice new tech, isn’t it? Now let’s look at economics of energy efficiency devices: investment and savings.

Investments. Electrabel is offering the Smart Energy Box at €139. Throughout the launch month of March 2012, customers will benefit from an introductory discount of €30. Add €3.50 for monthly subscription, i.e. €42 per year. Given a 3 years amortization of the initial capital investment, with the discount, and an average tariff of €0.18, one should save 435 kWh per year to cover the investment, plus the own consumption of the system, i.e. 10 to 20% of the yearly consumption of a benchmark family in Belgium. That’s quite a lot.

Savings. Marketers pretend that thanks to the tool end consumer can control and manage his own energy consumption. We all already do it without tools: we switch on and off when needed. One should neither be a genius nor being advised by a computer to know that consumption is reduced by switching off the light in an unoccupied room. I have no idea neither how much savings one can achieve thanks to the new tool, nor how to estimate them. do you? But I can tell it is peanut compared to the investment.

Market opportunity

The tools look great and functionalities are attractive. But fifthplay is not alone on the market. For instance Ijenko is proposing a similar solution, even broader as it includes also heating systems and security (smoke, motion and doors/windows opening/closing detectors).

Fifthplay’s long-term agreement with Electrabel is of course a good move to secure a big share of the Belgian market, to gather experience and a strong reference. But the international market is open and moving. Necessary technologies are not new and competitors would encounter no issue to develop similar devices. it will be a tough competitive market.

Not to mention there are cheaper solutions that can help you to optimize your electricity consumption (but without internet remote control): standby savers combined with power consumption data loggers offer a cheaper solution, without monthly subscription.


Many similar solutions will shortly appear on the market (this prediction is an easy one: it is already the case). Marketers will pretend this is the new tool you need, that you will save money on your consumption bill. Journalists will be enthusiastic.

Few people like me will explain that it is too expensive and it doesn’t worth the investment. We will be criticized, for sure. Here, I hope. I would like to read your opinion. Do not hesitate to comment.

But at the end, it will end like smart meters today: far away from the foreseen success. Not so many end consumers will acquire the system. Enough to officially mention it is not a failure, but not enough to revolutionize the way we live. Criticisms will be voiced. For instance, that it inundates our house with even more wireless com, raising real or fanciful health issues. Until then, first movers companies will gain enough earning not to lose everything (pioneer advantage). Some will even make good money. But followers will lose, except the cheapest ones who will supply the tail of the life-cycle pattern (Growth-Slump-Maturity Pattern, see for instance chapter 14 of the book Marketing Management).

Finally, such tools will gently survive on the market thanks to tech fans not looking at economics. And tech companies will come with a new tool you and me cannot live without. The same story again…

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