Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. Accordingly, a 'genius' is often merely a talented person who has done all of his or her homework.
- Thomas Edison
Can An Electric Utility Reduce Load Without Touching Its Customers?

By Jon T. Brock, President Desert Sky Group, LLC

July 23, 2010


In today’s smart grid world, we hear a lot about the benefits of the various smart grid technologies and how they will empower consumers to better control energy usage.  Approximately 80 percent of stimulus funds aimed at the smart grid have gone to projects that ultimately “touch” the consumer in one way or another.  Be it smart meters, advanced metering infrastructures, dynamic prices, and the like.  These projects indeed have merits and will ultimately change the way we use energy but has the market overlooked other possibilities that optimize the electric distribution grid without the need to educate the consumer?

Without getting too technical, the industry agrees that it was built primarily without efficiency in mind.  In fact, the electric grid was designed to handle a “worse case scenario.”  Take the hottest day of the year, assume all air conditioning and electrical equipment is running and then design a grid that can reliably handle that without having to do rolling black-outs.  Granted, generation plant-siting does take efficiency into account.  However, we are entering an age where distributed forms of generation will become a reality and will become a major issue for distribution grid operators if a smart grid-like communications infrastructure is not present.

So is there a way that electric distribution grid operators can optimize without touching the consumers and thereby reduce load?  Certainly.  Those who operate electric distribution grids know the answer.  They have been doing it for over 10 years.  It is known as Volt/VAR control.  Historically it has been somewhat of a manual process, making adjustments at capacitor banks based on various readings coming in from around the network.  However, in a smart grid world, the communications infrastructure will enable more readings from more nodes on the network in a near real-time model.  Having access to this data enables engineers to better optimize the grid as opposed to adjusting the network and then waiting for results to come back. 

A number of utilities in North America have measured load when running Volt/VAR control and optimization exercises.  Results range from a load reduction of 1 percent to 3 percent, depending on several factors.  This occurs without harming reliability and without the consumer’s knowledge.  No smart meters, no advanced metering infrastructure, and no dynamic prices.  So now the question is where should this technology reside?  Is it a stand-alone technology or is it a part of a larger distribution management system (DMS)?  I want to hear your thoughts.  Please visit my homepage and let me know what you think by checking your answer on the lower left side of  Results are displayed as the poll is taken.


Jon Brock is President of utility and energy advisor Desert Sky Group, LLC.  He can be reached at

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