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Smart Grid 3.0: Getting There from Here

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A lot of people talk about moving from the world of old school power grid automation technology — the siloed and batch-processed utility grid systems — to a grid that works like the Internet, uses applications overlaying the network, and runs in real time (call it Smart Grid 2.0). But next up could be the era of “Smart Grid 3.0,” which could user in a whole new level of interactivity and interoperability.

At least, that’s the idea behind a white paper released this week by startup Power Tagging, one of the 10 Big Ideas companies at our Green:Net conference, which kicks off this week on April 21 (the day before Earth Day). In simple terms, if Smart Grid 2.0 is bringing utility grid communications to Internet standards, 3.0 is stepping it up to include mobile devices, location-based services, and critically, an ecosystem of applications that can run across multiple utility networks.

There’s a long way to go between today’s smart grid and the vision Power Tagging lays out, to be sure. Today’s “smart grid” is more like a collection of islands of intelligence amidst a sea of deaf and dumb power lines and end users. Smart meter networks are separated from distribution grid monitoring systems, which are isolated from the legacy SCADA networks that link big transmission networks with the power plants that supply them power.

That means, first of all, that many of today’s smart grid systems can’t interoperate with one another — a problem that government and industry standards bodies are busy working out. It also means that many are bolted on to old-school, batch processing style utility back-end systems, rather than the real-time methods used on the Internet. As for rooftop solar panels, electric vehicle charging points and other such systems sitting on the customer-facing edges of the grid, they’re still waiting to be hooked up.

Power Tagging — a startup that makes hardware, and software to help utilities monitor power lines via the electricity they carry — says that the newest generation of Smart Grid 2.0 systems are going beyond those constraints, both by adding more real-time capabilities and opening up grid-specific communications networks to multiple applications. Still, this multiple application environment is driven by partnerships, since standards for the smart grid are still being worked out.

When will the smart grid application ecosystem that Power Tagging contemplates start to emerge? We’re starting to see hints of it. The ZigBee, WiFi and HomePlug alliances are busy developing the so-called Smart Energy Profile 2.0, meant to allow multiple communications technologies to carry the same power sensing, pricing and control signals, for example.

Likewise, solar power and smart grid systems now have a new standard aimed at creating a common language that will allow rooftop solar panels to interact with the grid, rather than blindly push their power out onto it. At Green:Net you’ll hear about how solar power and the smart grid intersect from NRG Energy CEO David Crane, and Silver Spring Networks EVP and CMO Eric Dresselhuys. Also check out Power Tagging’s presentation in our Big Ideas section.

Image courtesy of GDS Infographics via Creative Commons license.