Thursday, February 17, 2011

Texas Rolling Black Outs and the Not-Yet-Smart Grid

Analyst Chet Geschickter of Greentech Media wrote a nice piece about the blackouts Texas experienced earlier this month. You might say, hey, weather-induced power outages aren't caused by security problems. To which I would reply, oh yeah? The brittleness of the grid is one of its most significant vulnerabilities ... one that we now have the means to repair, though not necessarily the will to do so in the short term.

So may we continue? Here's Chet:
Rolling blackouts are a last-resort load shed tool ... [but while] demand response provides more orderly demand cascading ... it is limited to a few businesses with discretionary power needs -- like refrigeration compressors in supermarkets. A hefty chunk of the business sector is more sensitive. 
Then he continues ...
The residential market has huge potential for both electricity and natural gas peak curtailment, especially if and when large-scale consumer Home Area Network (HAN) technology adoption occurs.
That's a big "if" ... and maybe even a bigger "when". Now let's turn to an actual official in the thick of this event in Texas, quoted in a piece from the Wall Street Journal:
Many users didn't know their power was coming down, and officials said they should have issued more alerts so customers could prepare."It is something we have never experienced before," said Trip Doggett, the grid operator's chief executive, adding that "dramatically more" plants shut at one time than ever before. 
The good news?
By turning to the use of rolling outages, the grid operator prevented a statewide blackout that could have lasted at least 50 hours, Mr. Doggett said.
The bad news? The detail that that grid operators either couldn't communicate with their customers en masse, or else forgot to. I'd bet on the former. The Smart Grid is, if nothing else, about improving efficiency of operations and customer experience via better communications throughout the system. Ahem (throat clearing sound) ... I said, better communications.

Photo credit: (Texas based) J-5 Electric