The answer is, as with all IT systems, that a Smart Grid will perform the business functions that have been designed and implemented within it. Smart Grids are built with diverse business goals from operational efficiency and cost saving, to demand reduction and load management. Is the detection of, and response to, a potential emergency situation one of the functions of your Smart Grid?
For over a hundred years the majority of failing electrical and gas supply equipment to utility customer premises has been identified by random observation or complete failure, sometimes with spectacular result. Utilities with advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) deployments now face the reality that they have access to real-time data on supply endpoints, which can provide indication of potentially dangerous situations. Power utilities are ethically, if not legally, bound to utilize such information to the best of their ability. This requires that business and IT processes exist to monitor, process and respond to the state data being transmitted back to the utility from the AMI device. The public relations potential for the utility is enormous. The potential to save a home or business from destruction by the timely appearance of a service crew alerted by an AMI device, allows the utility to add customer safety to the list of Smart Grid expenditure justifications.
As a utility customer it is helpful to be informed of usage patterns, such that one can budget or perhaps modify behavior for financial benefit. It is exponentially more beneficial if the power utility is monitoring the status of the smart meter, ready to dispatch service crews to remedy overheating equipment or runaway gas flows. Here, though, we stumble towards the specter of big-brother type monitoring by the utility that scares—or is being used by certain groups to scare—customers away from smart meters. Consider: If the technology exists to monitor and potentially remedy a dangerous situation before it becomes life-threatening, is it sensible to reject the use of such technology? Seat belts and tire pressure sensors are but two examples where governmental intervention to mandate the use of safety systems has been deemed appropriate. I do not suggest that smart meters should be government mandated, simply that their contribution to increased safety be considered. Consider further: Due to the technical operation of certain AMI architectures, the removal or absence of Smart Meters at certain locations may reduce the effectiveness of the AMI infrastructure as a whole. Mesh networks, for example, can suffer lower connectivity rates of endpoint devices where “holes” are introduced to the system by customer opt-out. A customer that chooses to reject the use of a smart meter is removing the option of increased safety not only for themselves but potentially for their neighbors.
At the risk of waxing philosophical, is it not one’s duty to improve the individual and collective well-being of society where possible? If a means of potentially saving life and property is available is it not one’s moral responsibility to embrace rather than shun such a gift? I for one have no fear that a Smart Grid will infringe upon my civil liberties, I welcome the safety it can add in today’s uncertain world.
By: Jack Veazey, principal consultant, Management & Operations Consulting, DNV KEMA Energy & Sustainability