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The Future Foretold

Having spent my first career in research in T&D at Southern Company, I came to the conclusion that if I was investigating something, I could locate at

Having spent my first career in research in T&D at Southern Company, I came to the conclusion that if I was investigating something, I could locate at least one other person somewhere investigating that same thing, and that by working with like-minded individuals, we could move the industry forward faster than by working in solitude.

Over time — and I was in research 22 years — I came to the understanding that ideas will blossom and solutions will arrive when the time is right, when the need is there and when an opportunity avails itself.

Today, I see major corporations that have decided to provide services to the power-delivery industry. Of course, there are the Verizons, the Oracles and the IBMs, but there are also companies like Dow, Boeing, Trimble and Toshiba. And these companies have heft and the knowledge gained from working in many verticals, not to mention their deep pockets and deep market channels.

Where some of these new entrants ultimately will focus their efforts is yet to be revealed, but these and other companies are strategically focusing on energy. As they work to select entry points, we already know they will have significant impact. Why? New entrants can't know the business as well as established providers, so they can be more aggressive, because they have no legacy systems or legacy products to protect. As our industry cries out for new approaches and more sophisticated systems, they will find their way in.

Here are my predictions for the coming decade:

  • Why Is the Time Right?

    We will know the temperatures, tensions, sag and capacities of our bulk power lines in real time.

  • We will rate our substation equipment and track the aging characteristics of our transformers and breakers.

  • We will avoid widespread blackouts by deploying situational awareness tools armed with synchrophaser data and load-shedding schemes.

  • We will gain operational flexibility with the use of FACTS and HVDC devices

  • Just How Fast Are We Moving?

    We will dynamically dispatch bulk, regional and local generation.

  • We will dispatch demand response to the same exacting requirements that we now dispatch generation.

Globally, energy is the issue of the decade. Our citizens care about energy, and they care about the environment. When citizens care, elected officials know it is also in their enlightened self-interest to care.

Today, we are seeing more intermittent generation, more local gas-fired generation, more demand response and more energy storage, thus requiring a more sophisticated grid. And this is not limited to Europe or North America. When I was visiting the Russian transmission and distribution companies and meeting energy ministers in Moscow, I learned that Russia intends to run new gas pipelines to meet growing energy needs by placing gas-fired generation near load centers.

With increased difficulty in placing new transmission — whether in Brazil, Russia or India — we must resort to getting more out of the delivery systems we presently own and operate while we build for the future.

The technologies to pull off the development of a fully integrated and controllable bulk power system are now becoming available at a cost we can live with. Major players including ABB, Siemens, Schneider, AREVA and GE are bulking up to provide the breadth and scale to offer single-source delivery solutions, partly by partnering with boutique companies to provide total solutions.

Predicting where the industry is headed is much easier than predicting when it will arrive. Why? Because timing is tied to need and need varies by country.

But this works to our advantage. While New Zealand is embracing load shifting to reduce the need for new generation, India is working on building out its 1,200-kW grid to transfer larger blocks of base load generation. And while Spain and Germany are working to integrate large blocks of wind and solar into the grid, Norway is looking to export large blocks of hydro power to mainland Europe. By learning from one another, we can all move forward in our efforts to provide a secure energy future.

Now that we know (according to Rick) where the industry is headed, we can make plans to arrive there safely. Not everything has to get moving at once, but waiting is not a wise option.

Yes, we still have concerns. Yes, there are more than a few uncertainties. Yes, we still need to work out how to get paid for adding functionality. Yes, the technologies might not be perfectly mature. But unless your company gets going, the question will not be, what will our future look like, but instead, how did the future pass us by?

Let's not miss the most exciting opportunity in our lifetimes to shape the future of energy.

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