Power Shift: Smart Grid Transforms Electric Power for the 21st Century by Matthew Futch

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Matthew Futch directs global policy strategy for IBM’s Energy & Utilities division. His work involves policy and regulatory interactions within the growth markets of China, India, Australia, Brazil, Japan, the EU zone, ASEAN, and North America. Incorporating his deep background in energy policy, he develops country specific regulatory strategies for IBM’s Energy and Utilities ecosystem.

"With smarter energy networks nation states may now accelerate economic development through cleaner, more reliable, and consumer-friendly technology..."
 "Smart grid technology can change the high cost barriers to entering the electricity market that limit access to power, particularly in developing countries..."


For more than a century, the electric power industry has followed a model that produces and distributes electric- ity to, ultimately, passive consumers. The power system was originally configured for one-way flow from a concentrated source (the generating facility) to end-users on the other side of the meter. The system is optimized primarily for reli- ability, and has successfully supported global economic and social development. Dr. Kandeh Yumkella, chairman of the UN-Energy, a United Nations body created for promoting sustainable energy programs, summarized the relationship well, alluding to the “strong linkage between energy poverty and income poverty.” With smarter energy networks nation states may now accelerate economic development through cleaner, more reliable, and consumer-friendly technologies. Global deployment of smart grid technology is fundamen- tally changing the one-way, “produce and distribute” model into a more dynamic “collaborate, manage, and use” model.

The U.S. Department of Energy describes smart grid as “a class of technology people are using to bring utility electricity delivery systems into the 21st century, using computer-based remote control and automation. These systems are made pos- sible by two-way communication technology and computer processing that has been put to use over the past few decades to transform how other industries operate.” The grid transformation allows areas without significant twentieth century grid infrastruc- ture to implement a twenty-first century energy network specifically designed to include decentralized renewable generation and intelligently coupled micro grids. This article includes a broad set of technologies in the definition of a smart grid:

  1. Any and all technologies that allow for the exchange of information between the power source and end user (e.g. smart meters)

  2. Technologies that enable control, management, and coordination of intermittent generation sources (e.g. grid sensors and forecasting analytics)

  3. Distributed generation sources (e.g. smaller-scale generation and dis- tributed renewables)

The remainder of the article looks at the potential of these technologies to modify how we think about electricity, and the power it provides to nations and their citizens. (purchase article...)