It’s a truism in the smart grid industry that all of the disparate technologies that fall under the categories of smart meters, distribution automation, generation and transmission control systems, high-speed communications networks, and the rest will someday link into a bigger, smarter whole. But to what end?
A new survey, commissioned by IEEE and conducted by Zpryme, takes a crack at answering that question for three key technologies – energy storage, microgrids, and distributed generation technologies like wind, solar and onsite power.
Zpryme surveyed 460 energy industry executives from around the world, and came out with a lot of conclusions. Some are more predictable than others: to no one’s surprise, smart grid executives want to increase public- and private-sector funding for smart grid research and development.
On the microgrid front, while the military has been a big backer of the technology, it turns out that smart grid execs see hospitals and health care as even bigger future customers, according to the survey. That makes sense, of course — hospitals have required constant backup power for decades to maintain critical life support systems, making them natural candidates for microgrid-like systems.
For grid-scale energy storage, the key barrier remains high cost, according to two-thirds of survey respondents. Traditional pumped hydro projects, while efficient, cost billions and are limited to convenient canyons and rivers that can be dammed. Batteries, in the meantime, are still quite expensive compared to just bringing more power to the grid, although they can pencil out in key uses, like relieving stressed-out grid corridors that would otherwise need to be upgraded.
The last category, distributed generation, bears close watching, because it’s a category that’s far less under the sway of utility control. Whether via mandate or free-market forces, utilities are seeing more and more intermittent wind and solar power resources being linked to their grids — and being asked to handle that unpredictable, potentially destabilizing flow of power.
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