The Metrics for Smart Grid

Author: Marco C. Janssen

There are people questioning the need for Smart Grids while others are more than convinced that it is the only way to handle the future.  So what is the truth regarding Smart Grids? Unfortunately I do not have the answer either, but I do have some suggestions on how we can justify the investments in Smart Grids and create the right expectations for all of us involved in the process, from governments to the end-users of electricity, water and gas.
A basic principle for any investment should be to define its metrics so that we can measure the results in a clear and concise way. At this time I think that clear metrics are missing or have not yet been defined in full. At least that is why I believe we are still in the stage of seemingly endless discussions whilst the number of (pilot) projects is growing exponentially.

So what are the metrics for investments in smart grids? In order to define that, we first need to take a step back and ask ourselves why we are so excited about Smart Grids in the first place? In my opinion the hype has been fed by the global political discussion of the recent years about global warming. Why this topic suddenly became so important on the political agenda is a topic for another column. Based on the global discussion however, governments and policy makers have set course to create a “greener” planet and as a result relatively clear goals have been set in some areas on the planet such as the USA and Europe to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases and increase the use of clean power. With these goals in mind policy makers have recently defined plans such as the 20-20-20 plan in Europe which should lead to an increase of 20% in energy efficiency, a reduction of 20% in emissions of Green House gases and the use of 20% renewable energy resources by 2020.

We should however not forget the fundamentals of the power system otherwise we could end up with unpleasant consequences after implementing the current plans.  Electricity has become a commodity in our societies and as I stated in one of my earlier columns our economies have become completely dependent on electricity. We cannot even imagine a life without electricity anymore.

So what if the use of renewable energy and distributed generation leads to a situation where there is not reactive power to support the system voltage, or where the small scale generation cannot support the short circuit power needed?  We could face system instabilities and collapses at a scale that we have not seen before. So I think that common power engineering sense and the political and public will to create a “greener” planet shall go hand in hand. The power system engineers should be involved in the political decision making process as well as take up the task to educate the general public about all necessary details.

The metrics for Smart Grids in my opinion therefore should focus on clear measurable criteria and not on gut feeling or promises. I therefore suggest we use energy efficiency as the basis for our Smart Grid developments. In order for utilities to increase their operational efficiency we need to look at the efficiency of the power system as an energy converter.  Recent studies show that this efficiency for traditional power systems that use a mix of hydro-electric, gas fired, coal fired and petroleum fired power plants is in the range of 50-60%. This leaves plenty of room for improvement which could be a great basis for the development of Smart Grids. Based on this metric we can set clear goals for the improvement of the efficiency of the power system as an energy converter and measure how each step we implement affects this efficiency.

In the end this will lead to a better focus on the investments, a clear message to politicians and policy makers on the effects of the developments, and last but not least will  give a well founded story to tell the general public about why we are investing large quantities of money in this development.



Marco C. Janssen graduated the Polytechnic in Arnhem, The Netherlands and developed further his professional skills through programs and training courses. He is President and Chief Commercial Officer of UTInnovation LLC - a company that provides consulting and 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, and 19 of IEC TC57, the IEEE-PES and the UCA International Users Group.

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