In yesterday’s post, I referenced the view of IEEE’s Alan Rotz that state governments pose a greater roadblock to smart grid adoption than the federal government. While it may sometimes appear that progressive energy policy in Washington is occurring at a glacial pace, a new national directive toward clean and efficient energy means that some gains are being made. The Obama administration is investing $3.4 billion of federal money for smart grid technologies and even dedicated a speech in 2009 to celebrate the initiative.
Progress in state governments, however, has been uneven. The major problem cited by GE’s Mr. McDonald is the current state of CVR (Conservation Voltage Regulation), which deals with the voltage level that enters the home. Since the 1950’s, the standard has been that homes receive an average voltage around 120V with about 10V of leeway. Problems can occur if this voltage drops below a lower threshold, so to keep these at bay utilities have simply opted to increase the average voltage throughout the system.
However, this “safety” feature comes at a premium. Artificially high voltage levels can lower efficiency resulting in energy losses of 2-3%. A lower baseline is preferable but increases the risk that a perturbation could drive voltages below the minimum threshold. Voltage regulators downstream can boost losses by engaging in “voltage control”, but smart grid technologies are needed to know when and if these problems occur.
Complicating matters further, state governments have differing standards on energy efficiency. A handful of states have required utilities to save energy by lowering their voltage levels. The resulting lower demand costs utilities money, so states step in to financially compensate them for their losses. That there is no uniform standard between state governments makes regulatory and technical implementation considerably more difficult.
Ultimately, the federal government has begun to do its part. The United States Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) in 2007 put the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in charge of standardizing systems to ensure interoperability. In other words, all the houses on the block need to be on the same page if the smart grid is going to work effectively. Some state governments have made positive strides, but in Mr. Rotz’s estimation they have much further to go. Their relative sovereignty aside, cooperation among states would go a long way towards a smart result.