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- Thomas Edison
Smart Grid Trends That Most Agree On: A Perspective Courtesy of Erich Gunther

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

Reprinted with permission from the Smart Grid RoadShow

May 19, 2011

The “smart grid” is so widely defined that most will not venture into a definition publicly.  It can mean different things to different individuals or companies.  I recently had the good fortune to attend the Smart Grid RoadShow, an event focused exclusively on Grid Transformation and Smart Grid initiatives in Chattanooga, TN.  On the first evening of the event an invitation-only dinner occurs with utility and energy luminaries called Envision 2030.  Speaking to the dinner guests was Erich Gunther, Chairman and Chief Technology Officer of EnerNex.  Mr. Gunther also is the founder of Smart Grid Labs, chairman of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) GridWise Architecture Council, among many other roles working with EPRI, IEEE, to mention a few.  Recognizing the many different paths that the smart grid is taking, Mr. Gunther revealed to the audience that in his multiple roles with various organizations there is some commonality.  The need to define a vision of where the smart grid is going in the next 10, 20, 30 years is something that all the various organizations are striving for. 

Working with the DOE’s GridWise Architecture Council, Mr. Gunther informed the audience that there are trends in the smart grid today and future that “most” can agree on.  “Most” is defined as 90% give or take a couple of percentage points.  With this in mind, Mr. Gunther proceeded to list the macro trends that will occur over the next 10-20 years.

  • The global population will increase
  • Natural resources will become scarce and therefore more precious
  • CO2 concerns will increase
  • Public interest in sustainable energy solutions will increase
  • The spread of intelligence in devices will increase
  • Intelligent decisions will be based on local information
  • More memory and more computational capabilities will exist in end devices
  • Isolated end devices will become connected end devices (communications)
  • Communication speeds will continue to increase
  • Cyber threats and risk will increase
  • Cost of renewable energy resources will decrease
  • Cost of energy storage will decrease
  • Generation will become more distributed
  • Transportation will change (electric powered)

Mr. Gunther challenged the audience to take a couple of these trends and start to analyze what is applied.  There are a number of things that we might have to deal with over the next 10-20 years.  For example, generation is becoming more distributed, more renewable, more variable, and electric vehicles are entering the picture.  Those elements in and of themselves even on a small scale can have a profound impact on the electric distribution system.


For a moment let’s forget about the other trends and think about re-training our work force to deal with these elements that we've never had to deal with before.  Mr. Gunther pointed out that the existing distribution design guides we have that were developed over 15-30 years ago, and were developed in such a way to quickly deploy infrastructure.  Now we are talking about a “smart” infrastructure that will have a different set of requirements put on it.  This will result in a set of best practices that will allow future engineers to quickly deploy “smart” infrastructure with a new set of applications as easily as we did previously.  

One can argue about how fast these trends will happen, but they do imply some profound changes that we need to make in every aspect of our industry.  The new devices we need, the new policies that we need in order to manage this, the new business practices we need, and the new guidelines and training we need for our work force in order to make it happen are required for us to move forward as an industry.

Many thanks to Erich Gunther of EnerNex and the many hats he wears for putting the smart grid in perspective for us.  Review this smart grid trend piece in the year 2030 to check for its relevance.  One prediction I have for that year: the electric distribution network will not be called a “smart” grid, but just the grid.

Jon Brock is President of utility and energy advisor Desert Sky Group, LLC.  Jon is also a member of the SGRS Program Advisory Committee. He can be reached at   

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