Keeping it simple

Author: Marco C. Janssen, UTInnovation, Netherlands

Well after taking a step back and considering different options, including not writing a column at all, I came to the conclusion that there are still enough topics to write about although these may involve some more controversial issues. One of which is what I like to call the battle between humans and technology or in other words, the need to keep things simple.

There appears to be a trend around the globe to throw technology at basically any and every challenge we see. It almost seems that more complex technologies are being discussed, considered and implemented on a daily basis. There is nothing wrong with using technology to solve a problem, enhance a function or create a new opportunity, however I do think that what is happening at the moment is that certain fundamental issues are being hidden behind the wall of technology. To me, a worrying fact is that more and more people seem to think that only through technology we can solve our challenges. However, whilst that to a certain extend may be true I do not see many clear definitions on what the challenges really are that we are trying to overcome or solve. It feels as if we are using technology for the sake of using technology and not focusing on solving a problem, creating a better solution or overcoming a hurdle.

Examples of this include for me the deployment of the Smart Meter, the development of communication networks to connect each and every piece of information or equipment and the use of PMUs. I understand that by saying this I may be stepping on certain toes, and I invite everyone that has a strong opinion about one or more of these topics to respond and provide your comments, explanations and possible justifications.

Today almost everybody in the industry is agreeing that there is no single definition for a Smart Grid and that the issues we are facing are far more complex than anything we have ever seen. However, I am starting to wonder if that is really true. I wonder whether building up the power system from scratch with the knowledge and means available at that time was simpler than enhancing the infrastructure for it to become smart? I am asking myself whether the fact that we think it is more difficult could be because we haven't spent enough time to define what our challenges really are?

I am sure that most of you have heard phrases like "keep it simple," "think before you act," "the most simple explanation is the right one" and so on. I think that in essence what these phrases represent is that there are a few fundamental principles to follow. To me it is important that we should try to keep it simple. I understand and agree that keeping it simple when everything appears to be utterly complex may not be as easy as it sounds, but there is a lot of room for improvement in our efforts to keep it simple.

The simpler the solution, the easier it is for people to understand and thus to agree or disagree. And this may be one of the reasons why people do not always want things to be simple. Simple means discussion, simple means debate, simple means risk of not getting what you want. At the same time we should, in my opinion, consider that simple means better, simple means easier, simple means progress.

It is not new when I say that in order to keep it simple we as an industry and/or society need to set clear goals, define clear paths to these goals, and commit to achieving them. We need to walk the chosen path and need to know what we are doing. This requires however that we are consciously competent and strive to keep things simple.

I observe that more and more extremely complex solutions are being considered and even built. I also see that countries, governments, companies and people struggle to set and explain their objectives and roadmaps. At the same time I see that the development of the skill sets to define, implement and manage the suggested complex solutions does not keep pace with the requirements imposed by these technologies and this means to me that if we are not careful, the situation may quickly become unmanageable and to be honest, that worries me.

So maybe it is time to take a step back and reconsider what it is we want to achieve, and explain it to everyone in simple plain words.

This can be scary, complex, politically incorrect, perceived to be undoable, but as Johan Cruijff once said "sometimes something's got to happen before something is going to happen." Maybe this something is a rationalization of the complexity of our challenges based on the will to keep it simple.



Marco C. Janssen graduated the Polytechnic in Arnhem, The Netherlands. He developed further his professional skills through programs and training courses. Marco is President and Chief Commercial Officer of UTInnovation LLC, a company providing consulting & training services in the areas of protection, control, substation automation and data acquisition, and support on the new international standard IEC 61850, advanced metering and power quality. He is a member of WG 10, 17, 18, & 19 of IEC TC57, the IEEE-PES and UCA International Users group.

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