Alstom Grid recently announced that it will be providing high voltage converter DC technology to the Tres Amigas superstation, which would be a hub for renewable energy transmission. Where does the project stand, and what are the key policy hurdles to expanding smart grid in the United States? During today's OnPoint, Lawrence Jones, director of strategy and special projects at Alstom Grid, discusses his company's involvement with Tres Amigas and talks about the biggest challenges facing smart grid.
Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today is Dr. Lawrence Jones, director of strategy and special projects worldwide at Alstom. Thanks for coming on the show.
Lawrence Jones: Thank you, Monica.
Monica Trauzzi: Dr. Jones, Alstom recently announced that it will be providing high-voltage converter technology to the Tres Amigas SuperStation. Why is Tres Amigas so significant in the smart grid discussion?
Lawrence Jones: Well, first of all, Monica, I will begin by - allow me to help you by maybe talking a little bit first about Alstom Grid and the way it fits into the overall picture and then I will talk a little bit more about Tres Amigas. Alstom Grid has been around for over 50 years, providing technology for grid optimization for technology for maximizing the throughput through the power system. And we are now part of the -- what I would call the third division within Alstom. Alstom has three divisions, Alstom Power, Alstom Transport, and Alstom Grid, which is now the new division. And among the other things that we do, besides HVDC, we also develop information technology solutions that can be used to monitor the grid. In the U.S., for example, five of the electricity markets are operated using Alstom Grid's technology.
Over 40 percent of the power generation in the U.S. is actually operated using Alstom technology. And so one of the other things that's very key to grid operations is the ability to use PC technology, which basically allows you to transmit bulk power at DC voltages. And within the Tres Amigas Project, what's important there is that Alstom Grid will be deploying its new voltage source converter technology, which you could see as the backbone for the Tres Amigas Project. And why Tres Amigas is important is because Tres Amigas will allow the interconnection of the three regional grids in North America, meaning the Eastern Interconnect, the interconnect in Texas, and the interconnect in the West. Today those grids function, but they're not synchronous in a sense that the generator don't send at the same speed, if you may. And so Tres Amigas would allow - by deploying Tres Amigas using the HVDC technology that we're proposing to use will allow this ability to interconnect these three grids much better.
The other thing that will be critical, from the standpoint, is the fact that renewable energy, which is being proposed to use around the U.S. will easily be transmitted across the regions of the country if you have this sort of a bulk power superstation which will be what Tres Amigas will end up being once it's deployed. The other thing that's going to be critical with Tres Amigas, is it allows you to much more reliably operate the grid. So three things that will happen, one, reliability will be improved; two, the flexibility that will allow you to connect more renewable generation; and, lastly, to achieve the vision of a smart grid, which is being proposed by the administration and throughout the world in general. This kind of the project will allow you to do that because of that flexibility that it would bring to the system.
Monica Trauzzi: And there are so many questions, always so many questions about smart grid, what it does, what the components are, what the future of smart grid will look like. So does Tres Amigas sort of help fill in some of those pieces of the puzzle and provide a sketch of what the end goal is for smart grid?
Lawrence Jones: Yes, again, like I said, so one of the things that's important from a smart grid perspective is creating this flexibility, creating this controllability within the transmission bulk power system. And Tres Amigas, because it will have these new technologies being deployed in terms of the voltage source converter, it will add more controllability to the system, it will add more flexibility to the system. One of the key things with the smart grid is the ability to move power across the country in a more flexible way and Tres Amigas will do just that.
Monica Trauzzi: But the transmission infrastructure still needs to be built.
Lawrence Jones: The transmission infrastructure ...
Monica Trauzzi: And that's one of our key issues here.
Lawrence Jones: Exactly and building the transmission infrastructure will be key and Tres Amigas would be like the backbone, allowing you to interconnect these three different regional power networks that today are asynchronously operated. And with this kind of the technology being deployed, you will be able to do it more seamlessly.
Monica Trauzzi: You're also on the U.S. Smart Grid Advisory Committee. You mentioned transmission. We just spoke about transmission as a key issue. What do you think some of the other biggest challenges facing smart grid are in the U.S.?
Lawrence Jones: I think one of the key issues facing the smart grid evolution is the fact that we need to have systems in place that can coexist, that can interoperate. So that the notion of interoperability, the ability for devices and systems to communicate with one another, is going to be key. One of the things we've been looking at in the Alstom Grid, is this notion of an evergreen solution set where you already have existing technology and you're going to be bringing new technology. Now, for the smart grid to work, those technologies will have to coexist and they will have to live together.
So we are going to be in a hybrid world, if you may, and this hybrid world will require policies that will allow the communication and exchange of data between these devices and these equipments. And so interoperability is going to be key, which is one of the issues that the NIST Smart Grid Advisory Committee, which I am a member of, will be looking into and providing guidance and advice to NIST on how to develop these standards if you may. And then lastly, the other issue that's key is that let's make sure we have the policy backbone to support making these standards one that is adopted across the country.
Monica Trauzzi: So that means legislatively, what do we need to see in the short term?
Lawrence Jones: I think in the short term we need to make sure that the recommendations that will come from NIST and as a result of the smart grid efforts, that those legislations are enacted and become part of the standards that is used to operate the power grids around North America.
Monica Trauzzi: OK, we'll end it there. Thank you for coming on the show.
Lawrence Jones: Thank you.
Monica Trauzzi: And thanks watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.
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