Jesse Berst's Global Smart Energy and Michael Butler's Cascadia Capital have assembled this multi-part series where business leaders share their opinions on the future of the smart grid. This third installment features Mike Davis, Associate Laboratory Director, Energy and Environment Directorate, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL).

Based in Richland, Washington, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is one of the U.S. Department of Energy’s 10 national laboratories. Its Energy and Environment Directorate consists of nearly
1,000 scientists and staffers whose missions are to increase U.S. energy capacity; to reduce U.S. dependence on imported oil; and to reduce the environmental consequences of human activities. Its
Electric Infrastructure Operations Center is one of the world’s leading facilities for research into next-generation grid technologies.

Q: What is the most important next step in the development of the smart grid?

A: The nation needs an "air traffic control system" for the grid. First we need to deploy the necessary sensors and communications to gather the data. Then we need to construct a computation and visualization platform. This platform will provide real-time grid performance information across a wide geographic area and put us on the path to a grid as seamless and cohesive as the internet.

It’s important to note that this system would not interfere in any way with regulatory structures, operational control or market pricing, just as the air traffic control system doesn’t interfere with airline fares. In fact, it will provide clarity for all participants – including grid operators, utilities, regulators and ultimately customers as well. That clarity simply doesn’t exist today and it is essential to the rapid and effective transformation of our electric infrastructure.

Q: What kind of “shovel-ready” jobs can the smart grid produce?

A: A model for this platform already exists and is functioning at PNNL. A full-scale, nationwide version can be realized in two to three years by accelerating the build out of the North American Phasor Network—by adding communication and computational capabilities to manage the collection, production, and dissemination of this vital information about where, when and how power is flowing. It can be achieved with U.S. supplied components with an investment of $150-$200 million. Ongoing operational investment would be around $10-20 million per year.

Q: What role should the federal government play in this transformation? What role should the states play? A: We should pay for this investment via the stimulus package. We can fund ongoing operation based on the value this information will have to market participants. This capability and knowledge creation will do more in a shorter period of time to realize the grid we want for the 21st century than any other single activity.

(Pictured above PNNL's Mike Davis, Associate Laboratory Director, Energy and Environment Doctorate.)

This piece is not connected with Greentech Media News. The views expressed here are those of the authors and are not endorsed by Greentech Media.