Smart Cities - the basis for Smart Grid

Author: Marco C. Janssen, UTInnovation, Netherlands

Since last year I have become involved in the Smart Grid deployment in Dubai - one of the most comprehensive Smart Grid deployments currently underway. I was fortunate to work on the strategy for the Smart Grid in Dubai for the coming 25 years and it was during that work that I realized that building a Smart Grid to support a city like Dubai encompasses much more than just the modernization of the electricity grid.

We all are now quite familiar with the Smart Grid and in many ways it has gone through the Gartner Hype Cycle of curiosity, buzz, some adoption, and challenges. I think we are starting to get to the realistic mode of Smart Grid deployment. However so far the push has been from the utility side. They usually take the initiative, select the technology, build the business case, and get regulatory approval. At the same time however, we expect customers to adopt something while they are not involved in the selection process and this creates anxiety and resistance. as a reaction to privacy concerns about someone stealing energy consumption data and the likes.

I think that despite all the good intensions, the push method will only go so far. Ultimately it is the prosumer that has to need it. Now we can follow the paradigm that once you build - people will come, but is that really true? I think it is way better to depend on the demand to drive the supply and that the Smart Grid in the context of a Smart City fits beautifully with this idea.

The genesis of this comes from the work on the strategy for Dubai. If by 2030 major cities will be facing tremendous influx of population and at the same time the demographics and consumption patterns will need more housing, traffic, energy, water, sewage, schools, hospitals, police, etc. This gives rise to requirements of all sorts, which vary from city to city. Key in all cases however is that digitization will be the primary driver to meet the growing challenges to help sustain a decent quality of life despite all the demographic and economic pressures. Here is where the need for the Smart Grid as an enabler of meeting challenges comes in. This is a unique way of approaching Smart Grid because it is market backed - from the needs of the users to the provider.

Important in this context is that the customers are asking for different things based on their value system. Thus, we often miss reality, when we take a utility view which tends to homogenize and take a one size fits all approach to the list of use cases - calculating the cost benefits disconnected with the needs of the ultimate stakeholders.

During the development of the strategy for Dubai we found that the primary drivers center around transportation and energy. The energy aspirations are mainly a reliable supply and superior customer service in combination with the overarching goals of sustainability and efficiency. Keeping the Smart Grid development under the broader context of the Smart City, forces us to think about the infrastructure as a city platform as opposed to just a utility platform. Imagine control centers sitting above the utility control center that gather information and use communication infrastructures for applications across different departments and sensor data that can be leveraged for much richer analytics beyond just utility usage. Furthermore, you don’t need to have separate communication networks for various city infrastructures.

So is this doable in all cases? I think it is. City governance structures tend to be much more coherent and collaborative among the civil bodies, the policy makers, and business leaders. All these entities have a vested interest that we see in action everyday in the local chambers of commerce, community programs, and so on. Thus, to mobilize initiatives at a city level is very much doable. At the same time the issues regarding sustainability and efficiency will force cities to take measures to keep them attractive for business and people to sustain a healthy and enriching lifestyle. Citizens are much more demanding from their city leaders to keep their cities in good shape and are willing to make adjustments whether it is for biker lanes or funding better security systems.

The question however will be how ready are utilities to think strategically and are they able to work for the customers. Ultimately, I think the Smart Grid adoption is only meaningful when it brings in benefits and make lives more enriching which is possible within the Smart City context.

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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