Columnists: Hans Nilsson, Fourfact

Published on: 24 Mar 2016

Is the smart grid concept too stupid?

There has been much hype about smart grids in the press, at conferences and in peer-reviewed articles. And this hype has led us to believe that there is a technology available to all of us that will work as a magic wand. It will make us, my equipment and gadgets, and eventually my home smart. Then the problem would be solved and we will live in a brave new energy efficient world.

In the most fanciful scenarios it is that “special” meter that will make us smart when and if it is combined with smart incentives, which assumes an energy pricing structure that makes me drivel over all the bucks I will earn.

What we hear about the concept is very much focused on technology and gadgets. It also takes for granted that I will behave like the “economic man” of the models, willing to bet my existing comfortable life (whatever it turns out to be in the end) for a few extra pennies. Furthermore, none of these assumptions take into account that my peace of mind may greatly be disturbed by my family’s complaints that things stop to work when the price structure tells my washing machine and other things to stop working. (Yes I am exaggerating but it is for a good purpose!).

Now, I can safely assume that not everyone who promotes smart technology and smart metering knows what they are talking about. But some are, and they are luckily wise enough to understand that technology is not smart by itself.

Smart meters and smart gadgets call for “companions” to help. And those companions are marching in – in the shape of small units for distributed generation (PV, wind…) and new local storage technologies (batteries, fly wheels...). When integrated into the local system these pieces may provide means for making the grid and system smart. And this means that it will keep functioning when they are available and when the system is inadequate (congested and high-priced).

But, still, something is missing in my opinion. End-consumers are supposed to invest in generation and storage. However, the question is why should I, as a consumer, bother with all that? (After all, “prosumer” is a buzzword).

Isn’t there someone who could assist in putting the right pieces together, to maintain them and to operate them on my behalf? It should (could?) be the local distribution system operator (DSO) but presently most of them see their role as mere transportation companies. They simply pass a certain amount of energy through the system to my home and charge me heavily to do so.

What if they should take on the role as “mitigator” or “transaction enabler” and make me – my home – and the system smart? Then I may be more happy with what they charge me and even happier if they took care of the surplus from my PV system and earned their living from that.

Wouldn’t that be smart(er)?

Other columns by Hans Nilsson