SunSpec In the News | What's the Status of the Smart Grid? image

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By Kelsey Misbrener

Inverters are now required to be ‘smart’ and perform certain grid assistance roles thanks to the updated IEEE code. But what’s the status of the smart grid in general?

The concept and capabilities of the smart grid are still evolving, but aspects of it are already all around us.

“We’re starting to see more interactive appliances and apps and remote control capabilities that can be integrated into buildings and homes and industrial operations, all of which are effectively the manifestation of the smart grid concept,” said Sara Baldwin, VP of regulatory at the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC).

Tom Tansy, chairman of the SunSpec Alliance, compares the smart grid evolution to human IQ. It’s hard to say the grid went from being dumb to being smart, because that’s always relative to the current time and technology.

“If you look at human intelligence, somebody that was considered to be a genius in 1900 probably is a moron today because of the amount of knowledge that we have in the world,” Tansy said. “Grid intelligence is measured in sort of the same way, because you have performance standards of the day.”

The key difference between the grid of the past and the grid of the future is the same difference found in smart versus old inverters — the capability of two-way communication between the grid and electric customers. This communication allows the grid and customers to work together to respond to electric demand digitally.

“The grid was originally designed for one-way flow, a Central Station out to the customers,” said Mark Matsuura, senior smart grid program manager at the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute. “So that paradigm is flipping on its head.”

On the original electric grid, energy is produced in a central plant and dispatched over wires to the load. The increase of distributed energy like solar feeding into the grid is requiring an upgrade to that system.

“I would say the real tipping point where we have the next big breakthrough in terms of grid intelligence will be when the grid becomes indifferent to whether there’s a large single power source supplying lots of loads or many distributed power sources distributing many distributed loads,” Tansy said.

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