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September 19, 2009

LIPA's LIMBA update on Smart Grids - Bruce Germano

Video available Here

As always, I find LIMBA meetings an excellent place to meet people that have a great deal of influence over the Long Island region.  The value that I have gotten from these over the years is incalculable, in both learning how things work, and meeting new friends.  Some topics are political, some technical, and lots are both.  An overview of Smart Grids was given by a long time member of LIPA and its predecessors, Bruce Germano, the man responsible for LIPA's retail operations.

Bruce opened his talk this morning by recounting his experiences with Smart Grid technology dating back to 2002.  Back then, we were thinking Smart Grids, but there wasn’t a name for them.  With time, new definitions emerged, of a power network that has intelligence built into it, with the ability to control pushed further out to the edge of the network.  Currently, there are limitations in the power system that prevent that control  being extended.

According to Bruce, a smart grid is a communications network overlaid on to the power network, giving customers the ability to decide the best time to use power based on price signaling.  A Smart Grid helps bring down peak load demand.  It enables a customer and a utility to understand and control demand on a real-time basis.  In 2002 this was just a dream, but advances in technology are making it possible.  Utilities are looking for ways to provide customer choice and one of these ways is to introduce a Smart Grid.

To facilitate that LIPA, in concert with Stony Brook University and SUNY-Farmingdale, is seeking stimulus funding to implement a Smart Grid technology pilot project.  There are a lot of technology gaps to be filled, but if a go, the project has the following three goals:

·         Smart Grid Demonstration – Show that the technology to connect customer s to markets in real time is feasible,  and allow them to control their demand according to price signals they receive.

·         Green Job Creation – The deployment Smart Grid technology will require specialized skills and custom assembly of hardware and software to build the sensor networks required and the software backend to communicate the information gathered and control signals sent.

·         Green Skill Training – To move beyond a pilot phase, the original lessons of the project have to be translated into repeatable steps.  Developing the work force to implement Smart Grid technology on a wide scale will require educating a large number of subject matter experts that can grow the grid commercially.

The vehicle to achieve these goals is the building of a smart energy corridor along Route 110 from the Long Island Expressway, down to the southern border of Republic Airport.  This area brings together a lot of partners and ties together many existing efforts.  A diverse mix of customer types exists along the corridor, with commercial, industrial, residential, and municipal located there.  SBU is looking into two areas, load modeling systems, and the communications security risks associated with remote control.  SUNY-Farmingdale is bringing their exiting energy research labs, plus their investigations into sensor technology.

The technology gaps are being filled, but it is an evolutionary process and all the pieces are not in place yet.  Many big players like IBM, GE and Hitron are aiming to compete in this space.  Appliances are integrating communications and control into consumer devices, allowing the owner to program the timer for the cheapest time to use electricity.  The opportunity to evolve electric meters to support this exists, but there are no standards for Smart Grids and their devices.


The Department of Energy published 15 characteristics of a Smart Grid, and the National Institute of Standards is developing those specifications for devices and systems to interoperate.  Stability of the system is paramount, as we don’t want the repeat of another 2003 blackout, which was caused by a cascading system failure of the grid’s control structures.

Bruce wrapped up by letting us know that the stimulus application was filed about two weeks ago, along with thousands of other applications, and is waiting for the federal government to get through the review process.

Opening the floor to questions, Ernie opened the session by asking if Smart Grid technology will eliminate the need for new power plants, and would Plug-in  Hybrid Electric Vehicles help our situation.  Bruce responded by reminding us of Long Island’s insatiable need for electricity, and noting that although PHEV’s may help smooth out demand peaks, they increase total demand on the grid because they are getting their stored energy from the grid rather than burning fuel.

John Howell asked if every building by default be able to participate in the smart grid.  Bruce projected that the meter connecting the business would be smart and able to participate, but it would be up to the building owner to install the controls necessary to implement variable price consumption strategies.

Pat Halpin of the Suffolk County Water Authority asked if there will be incentives for customers to interrupt their power and use off peak power.    A discussion of the various ways pricing regimes could be constructed followed, with the net result being, we’ll see when we get there.

The ensuing discussion concluded yet another well spent Friday morning at LIMBA, where you get to meet a diverse set of leaders from across Long Island industries and organizations, and learn something valuable in an hour as you start the last day of the work week.

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