Instrumented Interconnecteds Intelligent
February, 3rd 2009

With the increased attention around smart grids, we asked Jeffrey Katz, the chief technology officer of IBM’s Energy & Utilities industry to share some of his thoughts on the opportunities for building a smarter energy infrastructure. He is currently representing IBM at the DistribuTech Conference in San Diego, and sent us the following:

Smart Utilities
Building a smart grid is a complex undertaking. It requires new technologies that affect an infrastructure system with massive, wide-reaching influence. The benefits, however, are clear and worth the investment.

With a smart grid, improvements to the underlying power utilities infrastructure are much easier, less costly and more efficient. Smart grids provide tremendous amounts of data that can be analyzed in real time to help predict maintenance problems and equipment failures, and can be used to better forecast capital equipment expenditures. For consumers, smart grids will open an array of new services that better match their unique needs and habits. Consumers will have more control and be able to “communicate” with the grid, making decisions based on their personal usage patterns, such as planning for better use of renewable energy when available.

With such an important undertaking, however, it becomes important for people to understand what is meant by “smart grids” in the first place. Based on work we’ve done with electric power utilities across the world, we’ve noticed a number of common characteristics one would associate with a smart grid.

First, a smart grid requires the deep integration of Information Technology and Operational Technology – two parts of a utility company that have traditional not shared much common ground. Much of the “smartness” of the new grid results from the symbiotic nature of these two areas, with IT precepts being adopted into the realm of the relays and reclosers, and the non-stop reliability requirements of the transformers and trucks being adopted into the automation and IT processes.

Next, security is essential in the smart grid. Just as bank robberies have largely moved from physical banks to cyberspace, smart grid vulnerabilities are likely to be digital in nature. Security must be built into the grid at the outset to prevent to any kind of malicious attacks or disruptions. Based on experience across many industries, we’ve developed a number of methodologies at IBM to mitigate these risks.

Another important characteristic of smart grids are the ability of far-flung electric power systems to communicate across the network. Just as the brain can sense and respond to damaged nerves throughout the body, so too can a smart grid’s central nervous system react to situations throughout the power network. A smart grid’s communication links are vital to sensing grid activity and emanating control signals for grid optimization work, including demand response.

With such complexity, a smart grid needs to be implemented in phases. It is physically impossible to add the integrated sensing, communication, and analytics required all at once. Even beyond the pilot stage, rolling upgrades will occur with service territories, and utilities will have different criteria for evaluating what parts get smart, and in which order. When the telephone system got smarter consumers didn't have to replace their phone; the transformation happened invisibly in the central offices. Similarly, upgrading the electrical grid needs to proceed without disruptions to consumers. The electric grid is more pervasive, bulkier, more obvious, and more distributed than the telecommunications network, and as such, will take longer to automate.

Making that jump to a twenty-first century electrical system signifies major changes for the electric power industry, but companies need not go it alone. Benchmarks, models and training are available to help companies make the transition. For example, we worked with the American Productivity and Quality Center to produce the Smart Grid Maturity Model, assessing where a company is and where it may want to go in the smart grid circuit. Also, resources from the Grid Wise Alliance Architectural Council and the EPRI IntelliGrid initiative can help power companies transition to a smarter grid.

An intelligent utility network is a major part of the future electric power industry. I would be interested in hearing your views as well. Please feel free to share in the comments below.

Jeffrey S. Katz is the Chief Technology Officer in the Energy and Utilities industry at IBM. Previously he was with ALSTOM Power Plant Labs and before that at ABB Corporate Research. He can be reached at

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Posted by: Viddertaise
March 25, 2009
5:26 pm

No doubt many will have read this quasi-populist article in Wired magazine – “7 ways to fix the grid, now”.
What is at least as interesting however is the vehemence, expertise and in some cases change-resistance that’s manifest in the comments.
As a result, for me perhaps the most instructive quotation from the article is this:
“fixing the grid is not a technology problem—it’s a system problem on the broadest scale…..Right now, that system encourages everyone involved—customers, utilities, and private industry—to neglect the grid. We have to give those stakeholders new reasons to turn on, engage, and transform.”
This may be as great a communications and enablement challenge as it is a technical one…..

Posted by: Kate
March 13, 2009
3:11 pm

We have long-term problems and we are seeking long-term solutions.
We have some serious short-term problems and they are being obscured by the focus on long-term problems and their solutions.
The short-term problems need both urgent focus and urgent solutions.
We need a common sense perspective on the long-term and the short-term.
Common sense indicates we should not misallocate precious resources on long-term problems to the detriment of urgent short-term problems.
This is not to say we ignore the long-term problems.
We are the stewards of all the precious resources we are provided including air, natural resources, human resources and a safe-for-life planet.
The short-term problems I suggest we consider urgently focusing upon are two-fold:
One, we face the risk of a severe solar storm that is projected to peak in 2012.
We do not need another bungled Y2K effort until a strong and capable hand finally oversaw a successful transition in the last 18 months before Dec. 31, 1999.
We need to examine the possible ramifications of a severe solar storm, for we have had past examples of what can happen. The great solar storm of 1859 is an example where the HEMP E3 effect was evident as nascent telegraph offices exploded in flames from the power surges.
In 2003 there were also consequences from a solar storm to the power grid. This is discussed at:
To be continued….
Two, and related to a severe solar storm, the risk of a High-altitude Electromagnetic Pulse (HEMP) attack grows stronger every day as rogue states and terror groups rapidly acquire the necessary component technologies.
For the past 60 years or so we have transitioned from a robust to HEMP vacuum tube technology to very vulnerable to HEMP solid-state technology. While providing great benefits, the transition has ignored the risks of EMP/IEMI severely damaging or destroying our entire power grid, and all electrical and electronic devices not protected against this and the solar storm threat.
We certainly need a smart grid but more importantly we need a protected and fully reliable power grid.
Without a protected and reliable power grid, and protected electrical/electronic devices we face chaos and potentially great loss of life according to the EMP Commission testimony and unclassified reports at:
To be continued…

Posted by: johnaw
March 4, 2009
7:11 pm

There’s a better way to use this technology to have a much bigger reduction in the carbon output on this planet we so dearly love. Simply outfit every orifice on every living creature on the planet especially humans with this technology. Then use this technology to limit co2 output from every orifice on every living thing on the planet. Once the daily output level is reached simply close all orifices until the start of the next 24 hr. cycle. The allowable co2 output could be decreased incrementally until the planet is finally co2 free. problem solved.

Posted by: Tim
February 16, 2009
5:03 pm

The traction battery of an electric car is a very expensive thing today – and it will be so even tomorrow. We shouldn’t oversize it – otherwise we will overcharge consumer’s budets. But by doing this we don’t have enough power for highway driving.
How to resolve this crucial limitation? Shai Agassi had a briliant idea: simply changing the battery at the filling station. But he will fail by overwhelming costs for the automated exchange stations.
See a very compelling, smart and simple answer: Pick a battery trailer and use it as a range extender – each time you’re entering the high-way – on demand… We can easily re-finance huge amounts of real large batteries with this rent-a-trailer concept. And we can add real value to smart grids by giving huge power storage capacity in a very near future. What does IBM think on this?
Best regards
Manfred Baumgärtner

Posted by: Dr. Manfred Baumgärtner
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