the panel discussion "Building the Smart Grid: Barriers and Opportunities" continued a tradition of top-notch events hosted by New England technology enablers, this time the MassTLC (technology leadership council) Energy Event. The format of the meeting was an early (7:30 am) start for 30 minutes of networking prior to the 2 hour panel discussion. The panel featured two fortune 500 smartgrid suppliers, two large utilities, and and interested third party. Each speaker gave a very brief 5 minute talk and the floor was opened to questions. The Q&A format had some intriguing undercurrents as it essentially featured a group of established players being peppered by questions from upstart outsiders looking for an angle into this space. Since my original posting, MassTLC has posted a summary of the conference here.
Although brief, each speaker's presentation exposed their institutions thinking and led to additional information, which I will share in this post. As has been my tradition with posts longer than a paragraph, the executive summary is:
- IBM is pushing WebSphere through their membership in GridWise and has had some major installations by third party contractors.
- GE is implementing with their iFIX SCADA, which does not seem very enterprise compatible.
- NSTAR is dipping a toe in the water and hopes to use existing broadband infrastructure of its mostly urban / suburban client base.
- National Grid has a fairl large-scale deployment but seems to believe that residential customers need to drive adoption.
- Finally, the City of Boston has a remarkably forward thinking approach that puts my seemingly high tech hometown of Cambridge to shame.
Guido Bartells of IBM spoke in passing of Malta as the first Smart Grid country, and stressed his involvement with the Gridwise consortium. Malta is in fact and IBM project, completed with engineering from Enemlta Corp. Ivolvement by a large company in a standards initiative is often motivated by interest in maintaining compatibility of an existing product to a new application area. A search of WebSphere and Smart Grid uncovered that in fact, a large number of the high profile smartgrid projects are being built on this. Most revealing are the presentations by , a 3rd party engineering firm. Perhaps we have the making of IBM's business model: the IBM core team makes sure that standards compatible with their technology are enacted and makes money licensing its software to 3rd parties who build custome solutions on top of it.
Larry Gelbien of NSTAR gave a great demand response statistic, at least for the NorthEast. In our climate 'problematic peak demand' occurs 4 to 8 days a year in 2 two four hour periods each day. It would be very interesting to determine how this compares to hotter climates, as well as different generation mix. Larry talked about his preferred communications backbone for smart grid - the customer's broadband connection. The idea behind this is cost savings for NSTAR, but I have to say I'm not sure how this would be implemented. Say I have DSL and NSTAR taps into my DSL for my SmartGrid. What happens when I switch to cable modem? Do I go through the same hassle I went through when my alarm system phone line stopped working? The cable company says 'that's the n-star box, I won't touch it'? I guess I'm incentivised to make sure my smartgrid box is working because I want my savings. Hmmm.
Bruce Walker of National Grid talked about the largest SmartGrid pilot in Mass, 15,000 homes in Worcester. Bruce's presentation gave me the impression that National Grid viewed modernization of electrification as a customer demand to be met rather than a new business model to be exploited. Although this was only one talk by one individual, it certainly sounded like the thinking of an entrenched player. I suspect that I was not the only outsider in the audience who saw an opportunity to respond more enthusiastically to this opening.
Bill Oates is the CIO of the City of Boston. I will take advantage of the looseness of the blog format and say I liked him best. He seemed to have a clear vision of the role technology can play in keeping his city near the top of the 'desireability index' and seemed to really understand the way SmartGrid integrates into the goal of increased energy from renewables, as well as electrifed transportation. He talked about how the city was trying to leverage its BroadBand stimulus money to achieve the dual goal of increased internet as well as smartgrid penetration. As a Cambridge resident and volunteer in my city's energy useage committee, I felt a certain parochial jealousy, that someone from my city wasn't giving this talk.