Energy Committee Educates the Public with Smart Grid Forum
by Rick Nunno and Amy Weinfurter
Under the leadership of Larry Martin, the Energy Committee hosted a well-attended forum on June 26 to discuss the benefits and challenges of DC's transition to the smart grid, the new system for electricity delivery being developed by power companies around the country. The first speaker was Eric Lightner, from the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability. Eric described the current infrastructure for electricity delivery in the United States, and explained how utility companies are upgrading their transmission and distribution systems to accommodate inputs from renewable energy sources such as wind and solar photovoltaic cells. The smart grid enables a two-way electricity flow by utilizing digital smart meters that measure how much electricity is generated by solar panels at residential and business locations. Over 40 million U.S. customers now have smart meters installed, providing two-way communications between customers and utility companies. Along with measuring the amount of electricity generated by solar panels installed on homeowners' roofs, smart meters keep track of the reductions to subscriber's electricity bill and provide real-time customer outage information to help utility companies restore electricity more quickly and prevent cascading power outages. Eric also described several other related programs, such as the Green Button initiative, which provides customers with a method of securely downloading easy-to-understand energy usage information from their electricity supplier.
The next speaker was Dan Delurey, Executive Director of the Association for Demand Response and Smart Grid. Dan explained that wind typically blows at night while the energy it produces is used during the day, increasing the need for energy storage. Using demand response techniques, the smart grid will help alleviate some of the peak demand by helping customers use electricity during times when its price is lower (such as programming washing machines and dishwashers to go on at night when prices decline). Consumers can save money and utility companies avoid having to build larger capacity delivery systems that are only needed during peak demand times.
Then Laurence Daniels, Litigation Director at the DC Office of People's Counsel, discussed what the smart grid is likely to mean for DC consumers. Laurence tied the discussion to the experience of the DC rate payer, focusing on the new system's potential to help low-income customers track and manage their electricity bills. Potential benefits include reducing the time needed to restore electricity after power outages, and that all consumers (including low income) will benefit from improved pricing models offered by the smart grid. An important role of the OPC will be to educate consumers on the benefits of the smart grid, while taking precautions regarding the issues of data privacy, health, and reliability.
The final speaker was Bill Gausman, with Pepco's Asset Management and Planning office, who addressed how Pepco is implementing the smart grid for DC and nearby regions. He noted that the rate payer's benefits and satisfaction drive grid modernization, and provided additional details about the ways the company reviewed the costs and benefits of implementing a new system. One example of an improvement is a procedure to locate a damaged power line and allow the network to be re-routed to minimize the number of customers that go out of service. Another is that smart meters can send a signal when they go out of service and when they go back into service, allowing Pepco to avoid going to those houses that have already been restored. Also, new consumer devices called home area network monitoring systems can help customers conserve up to 15% of their energy use.
The speakers took questions from the audience ranging from simple to highly complex. Everyone agreed that facilitating an informed public is the best course of action to promote energy efficiency and reliability and to maximize the benefits of the smart grid for all. The full video of the event is available at ClimateNexus's Web site, at: http://www.livestream.com/climatenexus/video?clipId=pla_6fa951f5-5bde-47..., and highlights are featured at: http://climatenexus.org/dc_smartgrid/. Please let us know if you have any follow-on questions.