Regulators and the Smart Grid

I planned to write about mobile versus fixed energy storage in a Smart Grid, but instead will postpone that topic in favor of regulatory matters.  The NARUC (National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners) summer meetings are a great place to get a deep appreciation of the role that Public Utility Commissions will play in expediting the rollout of smart grid deployments.  Regulators must balance the needs of many stakeholders starting with consumers and utilities, but now especially, economic and environmental concerns have a higher profile than ever before.

It’s a tough job – and the Commissioners are asking good questions such as “What should they do to encourage utilities to deploy Smart Grid solutions in absence of firm standards for interoperability and security?”  “What are the benefits that new technologies bring to consumers, and what are the costs to consumers?”  How do they prioritize all the many efforts that can be deployed in the Smart Grid arena to maximize beneficial impacts?  Here are three topics that are getting lots of time in their sessions.

Smart meters – interoperability

Everyone is concerned about standards for interoperability for meters – ensuring that meters from different manufacturers deliver common data that can be managed by Home Energy Management Systems (HEMS).  Consider the implications of interoperability decisions.  The right decisions mean that consumers get more information and control of their energy consumption at the right price points.  The wrong decisions can mean increased consumer costs for energy and services that are not as information-rich as they could be.  No commission wants to structure regulatory policies that influence utility choices of technologies that are proprietary and unable to connect to the larger regional grid.  Commissioners are careful to want to avoid picking winners and losers in technology solutions, but understand that they need to help utilities make smart decisions that reflect not only the regional interests but national grid interests as well.

Smart Grid – security

Critical infrastructure – ranging from transmission lines and distribution substations to the internal computer networks and software that manages customer information and billing – is the focus of many discussions about secure protection.  As the Smart Grid will use more networked applications for demand response and energy efficiency programs as well as more automation and optimization of transmission and distribution systems on a greater interconnected scale, it is vitally important that networks are secure and architected to provide layers of authorized access to private virtual networks.  There are a lot of potential threats to overall grid reliability and stability out there, and the public utility commissions and staff are well aware that their policies can have national security implications.

Smart energy devices – registration

The Smart Grid will have smart energy devices – specifically meters and energy storage devices, such as electric vehicles or home batteries.  Some Commission staff members are talking about numbering plans for these devices, because whether these are IP addresses or phone numbers, it entails literally millions of new addresses or numbers to be allocated for their use.  In addition to fixed devices like meters, electric vehicles (EVs) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) will also require addresses or phone numbers to support roaming charges – so no matter where your electric car is charging or discharging, the debit or credit is posted to your utility account.

Fascinating stuff, and there are no easy answers out there.  What are the implications for you, dear readers?  You need to be aware of the decisions that your Public Utility Commissions are making since they can impact your energy bills, and give you a bigger role  and better tools in consuming energy in smart and sustainable ways.  The Commissioners and their staffs want your educated feedback to help them ensure that your regulated utilities are effective and active participants in building the Smart Grid and giving you the energy services you want and need.