Media Coverage

INTELLIGENT UTILITY: All the right people having all the wrong conversations?

Intelligent Utility - Kate Rowland

In listening to presentations made at yesterday's DOE technical conference on the design of future electric transmission, I was particularly taken by Ice Energy's senior vice president of utility solutions, Chris Hickman, who eschewed the normal format for technical presentations and instead took a higher road.

So taken was I that I wanted to share some of his comments here.

While everyone can happily and easily discuss Grid 2030, he said, nobody seems to be able to envision where the grid will be five years from now, "and have no idea how to transition it there."

"It seems like we're in the same mode again -- all the right people having all the wrong conversations," he added.

The division of this country into states of red and of blue, and the politicization of decisions, has "corrupted our thought processes so much in the country that we can't get a dang thing done!" Hickman said.

As well, he told the conference, there are technical assumptions being made about energy that are based on decades-old information. He used solar, and wind, as examples. "Please quit talking about the solar of 20 years ago as a reason not to build solar....If you're going to speak with technical authority on this, please get current!"

He challenged conference participants, and the Department of Energy's Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, the office hosting the technical conference, to answer these questions: What's the goal? What are we trying to accomplish?

"If you can't tell me what the goal is," Hickman said, "we're going to have a really hard time measuring whether or not we're successful."

His proposal cut a broad swath across current industry prospectives. "I would like to propose that we don't do 'business as usual'," Hickman said. "Things have changed, technology has changed, and the utility industry has been slow to adapt....These are the things that will cause us to fail," he added, both as a government and as an industry.

Too many times this week, in sitting through congressional testimony and departmental technical conferences on urgent issues facing the DOE as it looks to spend the $4.5 billion that has been appropriated for it by Congress for our industry through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, I have heard the argument dissolve into chicken-or-egg issues. Do we set the interoperability standards first, and then dole out the money for projects testing the technology, or do we test the technology first, and build the standards around what works? Do we build a high-voltage transmission overlay, or build out the current set of regional transmission networks, and then seamlessly connect them?

The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) would have us set the standards first before funding projects. Both FERC and NIST say it's possible to do both simultaneously, provided that pilot projects and regional demonstration projects being funded through stimulus monies use an open architecture which can easily be built upon later. That's what they told Senator Jeff Bingaman's Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee oversight hearing on Tuesday.

And opinions were just as varied on the transmission issue at Wednesday's DOE technical conference, as well. Sometimes, in sitting through the testimony and presentations, it seems to me that we might be running around in circles looking for the front door while the house is burning around us.

The monies must be spent, and the decisions made. And I'm not sure at this point just when and how that's going to be done.

I can hear my sage father, and his father, in my ear, reminding me Rome wasn't built in a day. Well, we've had decades now. It's time to start.

Comment on this article: CLICK HERE