This article was originally published on Smart Grid News by Steve Hauser and Becky Harrison

Quick Take: A decade ago, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) primed the smart grid pump with a Grid Vision workshop in Washington, DC. Many of today's smart grid concepts and policies can be traced back to that seminal meeting.

Now DOE has partnered with the GridWise Alliance (GWA) to hold four regional workshops followed by an Executive Summit in Washington, D.C. to once again develop a stakeholder-driven vision of the future grid. As a participant, I received background materials in advance.

smart grid technology, smart grid trends, smart grid future, DOE, Department of Energy, GridWise Alliance

Those materials included thoughtful discussions of five future scenarios. Or, if you prefer, five future challenges. They did such a good job of framing the issues that I asked permission to share them with you in a series of articles.

Part  One in the series talks about an electric power system's most fundamental job -- namely, balancing supply and demand. At the end, you'll find a handful of questions. I invite you to use the Talk Back form at the bottom of the page to leave your own answers and opinions. When the series has finished, I will share the comments with the DOE for their consideration as they set the agenda for the next 10 years. - Jesse Berst

By Steve Hauser and Becky Harrison

Today, transmission grid operators must ensure there is enough power generation to service the load, both in terms of wattage and volt-amperes reactive (VARS). To do so, the operator continually adjusts central generation.

Some systems can also use a limited amount of demand response (DR) as another resource to keep supply and demand in balance. For residential DR, the operator typically sends a signal to switches on customers’ air conditioners, water heaters, and/or pool pumps.  The switches then cut off the load completely, or cycle it off for a given percentage of time in an hour. This simple but effective mechanism allows the operator to ride through a few critical peaks as an alternative to providing additional generation.


Sensus DA connects all your grid assets, no matter where they are, to deliver secure, wireless, real-time monitoring, two-way communication and operational control. 

More complexity coming

In the future, with increasing penetration of distributed energy resources, the distribution grid will have to be able manage two-way power flows and must be able to balance more complex supply and demand options. 

The devices on the customer side of the meter may include:

  • Distributed generation;
  • Distributed storage;
  • Home energy management systems that can control various loads;
  • Appliances that can react to pricing signals;
  • Options for charging or discharging electric vehicles.

At the transmission level, utility-scale generation will also be changing. It will increasingly include non-dispatchable generation such as large-scale wind farms and other renewables. And it will include utility-scale storage. All of these will require enhancements to existing balancing capabilities.

This increasing dependence on devices at the edge of the grid will also require greater interaction between the distribution and transmission grid and grid operators to optimize the balancing of supply and demand functions.

Questions to ponder

  • What is the role of the distribution grid operator versus the transmission grid operator?
  • What new capabilities will be needed to perform these roles? Are new tools/models/information needed?
  • How do current policies and regulation have to change to enable these new capabilities and roles?
  • What are the financial implications of this transition? How do we ensure grid operators and owners are financially viable?

Steve Hauser is President of New West Technologies, LLC, a  management consulting company providing solutions in energy, engineering, transportation and business. Becky Harrison is the CEO of the GridWise Alliance, a non-profit advocacy organization promoting the modernization of the electric grid.