GridWise Alliance's Hamilton discusses global vision for smart grid

Last week, key players from around the world met in Washington to discuss challenges and progress on smart grid. What lessons can the United States learn from countries that have already deployed smart grid technology? During today's OnPoint, Katherine Hamilton, president of the GridWise Alliance, discusses progress on creating a cohesive, global vision for smart grid. She explains how customer engagement is being addressed and discusses policy options for smart grid development.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Katherine Hamilton, president of the GridWise Alliance. It's nice to see you again.

Katherine Hamilton: My pleasure, thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: Katherine, the GridWise Global Forum is taking place in Washington this week and one of the key goals there is getting the smart grid story together and getting all the players on the same page about how to move forward on smart grid. So what progress have we seen this week at the conference on the direction of smart grid?

Katherine Hamilton: The great thing is we've brought people together from all over the world. It's been very global in nature, so we have dozens of countries, ministers from countries, CEOs working on these issues all over the world. CEOs from America that are working on these issues globally, like IBM and GE, and we've been able to share what we're doing so that this becomes much more about our global energy future, rather than just about how do you deliver a piece of technology.

Monica Trauzzi: So, why does this need to be a global issue? I mean isn't every country going to handle it differently and do something different?

Katherine Hamilton: We can learn a lot of lessons from what others have done. Other countries have different energy policies and we can see what happens if you set energy policy a specific way. How does that then allow you to roll out smart grid and energy efficiency and renewable energy? And we can also see how people work with their consumers and learn from each other in that arena as well.

Monica Trauzzi: So, is there a cohesive vision, idea of what the smart grid should look like in the end?

Katherine Hamilton: I know that's what everybody wants. They want a picture, like you can see a picture of a windmill. But really, this is about taking our system to the next level. And it's a system of systems. It's the electric grid. It's the transportation infrastructure. It's the built environment. How do you make these systems come together and work together in a way that transforms our energy economy?

Monica Trauzzi: And are we any closer to ...

Katherine Hamilton: Yes, we are.

Monica Trauzzi: To the end?

Katherine Hamilton: Yes, thank you to the stimulus funds in part. We're rolling out a number of projects, hundreds of projects in this country and hundreds more are happening all over the world that we can learn from and say, okay, maybe we start here or maybe we start there. Different people are going to start in different places, depending on where they are and what the needs of their system are.

Monica Trauzzi: So there are still some key questions that need to be answered and one of them revolves around the consumer.

Katherine Hamilton: Yes.

Monica Trauzzi: How do you get the customer on board with using these technologies? They may exist, they may work, but how do you get the customer to use them?

Katherine Hamilton: Well, the consumer's relationship with utility has been limited to flicking the light switch and wanting it to come on all the time and getting a bill at the end of the month saying how many times they flicked that light switch and this is what you have to pay for it. And this is a completely different relationship and this is a relationship that involves the consumer knowing a lot more about what they use and then being given the tools to make a difference, to make choices and to feel like they are in control, just as we do with so many other things that we have within our home.

Monica Trauzzi: So, in terms of monetary benefits to the consumer, as I understand it, it will be pretty minimal in terms of the savings that they'll see at the end of the month. So then how do you incentivize a consumer if there isn't a monetary benefit?

Katherine Hamilton: Well, the monetary benefit in part comes from system benefits, so right now that's how many of the cases are being made. That we'll be able to make our system more efficient and that will then translate to greater reliability, greater efficiency for delivering energy to the consumer. But once we start getting apps into the consumer's hands, they will be able to make a difference and they will be able to maximize their energy efficiency and energy use.

Monica Trauzzi: So, who should be in charge of all this? Should the utilities be in charge?

Katherine Hamilton: Well, the utility's job is to deliver electricity. That is absolutely their job. Their job is to deliver reliable, cost-effective, safe electric power. And so it is their system over which this digital overlay will be placed. We have to get the rules right, so whether it's from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, from the state regulators, from state and federal legislators, if we get the rules right, then utilities are really good at working in a system of rules and they will be able to then operate their system, make those investments and be able to quantify the value for the consumer.

Monica Trauzzi: There's a lot of back and forth right now on the Hill as to whether we'll see an energy bill, and energy lite bill, an RES this fall. Do you think smart grid will be addressed in any form of legislation? And if it's not, what does that mean moving forward?

Katherine Hamilton: Well, anything you do in energy or climate needs smart grid to help you make your goals, so no matter what you do you're going to incentivize smart grid. If you put out a renewable portfolio standard, in order to get wind energy online in any real way you need to have digital dispatch. You need dynamic forecasting. You need energy storage. Those are all part of a smart grid. You need all of those components to then get you to your goal. Smart grid is just a means to an end. They're just the technology enablers.

Monica Trauzzi: So how important is the expansion of renewables to the future success of smart grid? Do we need to have more renewables online in order for smart grid to be a success?

Katherine Hamilton: I think it's the other way around. I think you need a smart grid to get more renewables online, to get more distributed power, to have a more efficient system, to be able to maximize your baseload. All of those things you need smart grid to do. The goal is not to get a smart grid. The goal is to get all of these other things done.

Monica Trauzzi: Are we at a turning point right now for energy and climate policy in the U.S.?

Katherine Hamilton: I hope so, but I don't know if we're, what we're at a turning point is a turning point for the amount of data and the amount of knowledge that we'll have. So from all these projects that we're doing we'll get an enormous amount of data on how people use energy, how the system uses energy. And I think that is going to inform our policy development. So I think we're still collecting that and that will help us make that case.

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

Katherine Hamilton: Sure, thank you, my pleasure.

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

[End of Audio]



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