CURRENT's Gogel discusses hurdles to smart-grid implementation

As the Department of Energy accepts applications for smart-grid funding through the stimulus, which projects and technologies will be most successful in the short term? During today's OnPoint, Ray Gogel, president of CURRENT, a provider of smart-grid technology and infrastructure for electric utilities, discusses the success of SmartGridCity in Boulder, Colo. He explains how elements of the project can be transferred to other regions of the country and weighs in on the debate over creating smart-grid standards.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to the show. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Ray Gogel, president of CURRENT, a provider of Smart Grid technology and infrastructure for electric utilities. Ray, thanks for coming on the show.

Ray Gogel: Thanks for having me.

Monica Trauzzi: Ray, you recently joined CURRENT from Xcel Energy where you were in charge of the Smart Grid City in Boulder, Colorado. You'd like to duplicate the success of that project at other utilities around the country. What are the main lessons learned from the Colorado project that you think can be brought around the country to other projects?

Ray Gogel: Well, we'd like to duplicate it not only around the country, but around the world obviously. And as to lessons learned, the first one is simple, Smart Grid works. There was a time where it was just a concept, where a lot of us were working on how do we really give it substance? And today, what we're seeing in Boulder is that the first phases, as they've gone live, have produced more reliability, have lessened customer complaints and that there's progress around all of what we call Smart Grid. Second lesson is that utilities, visionary utilities, can work together with their communities and with their IT providers and create a whole new market and a new vision of a grid that kind of takes away the presuppositions that we always used to have for the utility market, namely that pollution didn't cost anybody anything and that energy was pretty much cheap. Those things are changing and it's time for the utilities to work with their communities to have a different solution and that's what Smart Grid City was all about.

Monica Trauzzi: The Boulder project linked up about 42,500 homes. So is this something that can be transferred to larger cities or does it sort of need to be tailored for different regions of the country?

Ray Gogel: Well, it will be tailored on the communications side of it, from an IT infrastructure perspective, but the reality is most of it is the same type of an approach. It's about getting data and turning it into information, information which you can now use in an automated way on the grid to be more efficient, to be more reliable, to bring on more renewables onto the grid and ultimately to be more secure.

Monica Trauzzi: How far off as a nationwide, fully implemented Smart Grid? I mean is that something that's even economically feasible at this point?

Ray Gogel: Well, that's a great question, Monica, and the answer is time will tell us. What we do know today is this that we're on our way toward proving that these concepts work. What we don't know yet is what are the economic benefits of all the concepts? We have some early indicators that these will be positive benefits as we go forward, but maybe what we should do is ask the question what would the grid look like and how would you and I, as consumers, interact with electricity if in fact smart grid was a reality throughout the country? So, we'd see things like walking into a Wal-Mart or a Best Buy and there would be a department section of the store talking about thermostats and how you control energy in your house. The meter would disappear from the side of the house and we'd see PCs in the house telling you everything your electricity usage is predicated on and what you can do to change how you use the electricity. We'd see fundamental shifts in where power comes from. There would be more renewables on the grid, everywhere renewables as opposed to coal-based generation and we'd see PHEVs, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles which are charging at night when power is cheap and discharging during the day when power is expensive and customers actually making money on the use of their cars.

Monica Trauzzi: And these are all goals that the Obama administration has laid out for our energy future. There's been a lot of talk in Congress recently about creating a cohesive set of standards for Smart Grid. How can developers be sure now that they won't face compliance issues in the future since there are no set standards at this point? I mean is there a certain risk level moving forward with projects at this point?

Ray Gogel: There's always a challenge and, clearly, the idea behind Smart Grid, since it's not a paved path from one point to another point, is fraught with some risk. On the other hand, the benefits will ultimately outweigh it. As it comes to standards just a couple of thoughts. One, standards aren't a final platform or a final definition of what open means as we go forward. It's an evolving step of methodologies and there certainly are enough people working together to say, okay, we can have consensus around what that evolving platform should look like. That's OK. The telecom industry has done that for the last 20 years. There's never been a clean definition of what the standards are.

Monica Trauzzi: DOE is currently accepting applications for smart grid funding through the stimulus. As someone who's been on the ground working on these projects and implementing these technologies, how do you think this money should be distributed?

Ray Gogel: I think it should be distributed much as DOE is attempting to distribute it, namely in a variety of regional demonstration projects. We don't know yet what the full implications of Smart Grid will be. We shouldn't know that yet, it's in a new and early space. So, DOE is looking to have regional demonstrations that prove different types of technologies. I wholeheartedly support that.

Monica Trauzzi: Are venture capitalists still putting their money behind these types of technologies or have you seen a slowdown as result of the economic downturn?

Ray Gogel: No, actually we've seen that this space is more and more attractive every single day.

Monica Trauzzi: Recently there were concerns raised about security issues relating to Smart Grid and this has the potential to derail the system, to impact power supply. How concerned are you about this cybersecurity risk that we've been hearing about?

Ray Gogel: One has to always be concerned about cybersecurity, but those same concerns exist today. The Smart Grid of the future will have more security, it will not have less.

Monica Trauzzi: And what do you think needs to be done to get there?

Ray Gogel: Well, the focus on leveraging more advanced standards, more advanced cybersecurity protocols is very important. The architecture behind the Smart Grids has to be thought through in great depth and it is being thought through.

Monica Trauzzi: OK, We'll end it right there. Thank you for coming on the show.

Ray Gogel: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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