San Francsico, California -- David Leeds, the Director of Smart Grid Research at Greentech Media kicked off The Networked Grid Event with a glance back at the ghost of smart grid past and a long look at what Smart Grid 2.0 holds in store.

In a nutshell: AMI (advanced metering infrastructure) is not the smart grid -- AMI is just a well-marketed application riding on the smart network. The future of the smart grid, forecast to grow from $5.7 billion to almost $10 billion in 2015, lies in DA (distribution automation). We'll go into a bit of detail on DA a little later.

The Top Five Smart Grid Trends: The Smart Circuit

  1. The growth of distribution automation
  2. Utilities must increase consumer awareness and engagement -- providing tangible benefits for the billions invested
  3. Realizing that the network is the foundation for all the applications we're trying to run
  4. Solar and electric vehicle (EV) growth accelerates the need for a smart grid 
  5. The recent trend of utility consolidation and mega-mergers provide the potential for more buying power and easier establishment of standards.

Leeds emphasized that while Smart Grid 1.0 was about metering with 68 million meters set to be installed by 2015 -- the real action in the smart grid is in demand automation.

According to Leeds, the term refers to a wide array of potential advances that will give utilities and grid operators digital control over the power delivery network. It takes the form of advanced electronics communications technologies, data processing and analysis.

It encompasses improvements in four main areas:

  • System reliability
  • Grid optimization
  • Effective DG / EV integration
  • Asset utilization and protection

And it's enabled largely by the addition of new sensor and communications technology, as well as a new generation of dynamic devices.

So what is distribution automation anyway?

Well, the objectives for DA are to make the grid more reliable, secure, efficient, and resilient as well as capable of integrating intermittent DG and EVs.

The leading applictions in DA, in 2011 at least, are:

  • Fault location isolation and service restoration (that's FLISR to you)
  • Load balancing / emergency load shedding
  • Volt/VAR optimization and conservation voltage management

The economic benefits of DA include reliability benefits, reduced number of customers affected by outages, shorter duration of outages, improved system efficiency, and reduced line losses.

A great case in point is that APS, the Arizona utility, put in Volt/VAR and dropped their line loss from 7 percent to 3 percent. And though it's still early days -- and "although the communication solution for DA has yet be annointed," in Leeds' words -- distribution automation is the growth area of the smart grid.