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
What Are We Asking For In A Smart Grid? A Perspective Courtesy of David Wade

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

Reprinted with permission from the Smart Grid RoadShow

August 22, 2011

On April 27th of this year tornadoes struck the Chattanooga and north Georgia areas with what is described as the most devastating storm in EPB’s 75 year history.  Shortly thereafter I attended the Smart Grid RoadShow, an event focused exclusively on Grid Transformation and Smart Grid initiatives in Chattanooga, TN.  The host utility was EPB, a publicly-owned provider of electric power serving approximately 169,000 residents in a 600 square mile area.  Addressing an executive invitation-only audience on the first evening of the event was David Wade, Executive Vice President Electric System and COO of EPB.  Mr. Wade started by asking the audience to consider history when trying to envision what the electric distribution grid would look like in 20 years.    

Henry Ford apparently asked many times what people wanted in transportation.  They would answer “faster horses.”  Wade surmises that Henry Ford is trying to tell us two things: one was that his potential customers didn't trust the car, second is that they trusted the traditional form of transportation – horses.  One thing they did value was getting somewhere quicker.  An interesting analogy when we compare that to what consumers are saying today about the smart grid, isn’t it? 

Basically we are talking about collapsing time and space.  We've used that concept before to make improvements in other industries.  Examples include the interstate highway system, airline travel, and now high speed communications.  During the birth of our own industry we had to build generation close to the load because we couldn't transport energy for long distances.  The industry innovated and developed new transportation technologies in high voltages and at the time it was revolutionary.  It enabled us to transport energy over long distances collapsing time and space. 

Wade also pointed to the computer industry.  Just a couple of decades ago mainframe computers the size of a large room were required to do what we can do today in tiny spaces.  If asked, customers probably did not ask for a mainframe on their desktop.  Instead, they were asking for cheaper computing power (remember paying by the cycle or CPU minute?).  Advances in computing power, storage, and speeds have significantly changed our world. 

If we take a look at where the electric industry is today, we think in terms of centralized generation and we interact with our customers as load.  We interact with our network when we have trouble.  We open or close switches.  We communicate over the phone or radio.  We place our trust in putting steel in the ground and building centralized generation, just like faster horses. 

What we need to be doing is thinking about the future.  Our customers may not know what to ask for.  What will happen when we have the ability to interact with smart devices all over our network in homes where there can be distributed generation?  Wade asked himself why we do not take distributed generation sources as an industry and put them on the line where they do not need to be a part of the connected grid.  Instead, we connect distributed generation in a way that it would “turn off” if the distribution grid loses power.  Sounds like dumb generation to me!  Wade stated that he would have loved to have distributed generation when tornadoes came through one area of the EPB service territory.

If we listen to the lesson of Henry Ford we could go places as an industry.  Are we going to continue to trust our horses by investing time and money in making them faster?  Are we going to blindly say that customers are not asking for the smart grid and therefore we should sit?  Or are we going to decide to do something bigger?  I would like to thank David Wade of EPB for challenging us in the audience and making us think about where we should be taking the industry.

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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