The Convergence of Laws – Moore, Metcalfe, and Ohm

I attended a couple of Smart Grid events last week that emphasized two themes – that the Smart Grid is a convergence of ideas, technologies, and operations; and that this convergence will challenge human nature – specifically our resistance to change.

The basic definition of the Smart Grid – the bi-directional flow of communications and electricity – describes the convergence of telecommunications networks and power networks.  But the Smart Grid is also the result of wide-ranging convergences of Moore’s Law and Metcalfe’s Law.  Moore’s Law (formulated by Gordon Moore at Intel) stated that the number of transistors incorporated in a chip would approximately double every 24 months.  The increases in processing power are evident in the ever shrinking size of devices.  For example, cell phones used to be the size of bricks to house all the necessary electronics, now they easily slip into a pocket.  Moore’s Law continues to hold true as computing devices get smaller but ever more powerful and affordable.   Metcalfe’s Law (formulated by Robert Metcalfe at Motorola) states that the value of a network grows as the square of the number of users grows.  A single phone is of no use if no one else has a phone.  The Internet is an excellent example of something that has extraordinarily increased in value as more people use web-enabled applications for business and personal transactions and interactions. 

And then there’s Ohm’s Law (formulated by Georg Ohm through his research on electricity), which defines the relationships between power, current, voltage, and resistance.  An ohm is the resistance value at which a volt will maintain a current of one ampere.   Resistance determines the amount of current that flows through a component, so low resistance means large Amperes or amps, and high resistance means low amps.  Ohm developed mathematical descriptions of electricity, but today we need equivalent equations to describe human resistance to change.   Why do we need a behavioral Ohm’s Law? 

Because the future value of a Smart Grid is based in the growth of energy-consuming or energy-producing devices that are connected together via telecommunications networks and the information that can be derived from energy data about them.  This is the vision of the Smart Grid – an energy internet of billions of intelligent devices that delivers information, convenience, and savings to their owners; that integrates clean, domestic, and renewable sources of secure energy to nations; and reduces harmful pollution from fossil-fuel sources to benefit the global environment.  

The Smart Grid will introduce changes at every point in the electricity value chain – from generation to consumption.  That strikes uncertainty, if not outright fear, in stakeholders who do not understand or reject the benefits that Smart Grid technologies will deliver to us individually as energy consumers and collectively as a nation.   Next week’s blog will identify some Smart Grid impacts across the electricity value chain and how to manage change.