Report: Smart-grid apps to revolutionize electricity use

Smart-grid applications in six key areas will change the way people use, buy, manage, and think about electricity, according to GigaOm Pro and Pike Research.

Candace Lombardi
In a software-driven world, it's easy to forget about the nuts and bolts. Whether it's cars, robots, personal gadgetry or industrial machines, Candace Lombardi examines the moving parts that keep our world rotating. A journalist who divides her time between the United States and the United Kingdom, Lombardi has written about technology for the sites of The New York Times, CNET, USA Today, MSN, ZDNet, Silicon.com, and GameSpot. She is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not a current employee of CNET.
Candace Lombardi
4 min read

Get ready for reliable electricity, and an automated world of electronics, appliances, and buildings, to become the new normal.

That's the main message in a report released today by GigaOm Pro and Pike Research.

Smart-grid applications in six key areas will change the way people use, buy, manage, and think about electricity, according to the report "Smart Grid Apps: Six Trends That Will Shape Grid Evolution" led by Clint Wheelock, Pike Research founder and managing director.

Those electricity-related applications focus on home energy management systems, electric vehicles, distribution automation, smart-grid analytics, building energy management systems (BEMS), and carbon management.

Checking the home energy dashboard will become a common household chore.

All those home energy management (HEM) and energy information display (EID) tools that are popping up via web-based apps, smartphones, networked TVs, and car dashboards are not a fad. Most everyone is eventually going to have smart electronics, smart appliances, and smart homes that will communicate energy use and receive instruction remotely, according to Pike Research.

It will be normal for people to check what their home is doing in real time in terms of consuming energy, as well as take a long-term view. People will manually change or set long-term preferences for how and when they want their appliances, electronics, and home to consume electricity. While home energy management will become de rigueur, which tools people choose to use to do that, whether it be a wall dashboard in the home or one's smartphone, remains to be seen.

For those who buy them, electric vehicles will become the biggest electricity guzzler in a home. That doesn't mean, however, that it will necessarily be the appliance that racks up the electricity bill. Owners will have the ability to set their EVs to charge during off-peak hours, and their home energy system will automatically tell the EV or its charger when it's time to charge. Companies are already making these integrations possible: for instance, Ford EVs and Microsoft Hohm; Ecotality's Blink charger and Cisco's home energy controller; and GE's Watt station charger and the Nucleus home energy management system.

"The bulk consumption of EVs is also the greatest potential benefit (and threat) to utilities," according to the report.

The predicted mass adoption of EVs and resultant charging of EVs at home can help explain why governments and utilities are investing in and escalating the adoption of smart grids and the long overdue upgrade to the electric grid.

Long-term blackouts due to things like storms causing trees to fall on power lines will become a quaint memory of old technology. Electricity will be generated, distributed, and consumed with more transparency.

Distribution automation will give utilities the ability to automatically and remotely detect the location of circuit faults and implement work-arounds or fixes, dramatically increasing the speed and ease with which electricity is restored in the event of disruption. It will also allow electricity grids to supplement a local load with an intermittent local power source like wind or solar in real-time as it becomes available. It will do so in conjunction with the peak and off-peaks loads of its upper-layer grid source as well, giving the extended grid even more reliability, according to Pike Research.

Brown-outs, which often stem from things like mass air conditioner use in summer, will simply just not happen because utilities will have the data to be prepared and manage electricity distribution.

Smart-grid analytics will play a major role in managing the massive amount of electricity generation and usage data collected at both the lowest and highest levels, and then used to optimize service. That application is the key to making distribution management of loads and demand response possible. But expect turf wars between engineering, billing, and operations since presently there are many different systems at different levels that "own" the information from smart meters to distribution network management.

Commercial customers will have more control over their electricity needs, and be able to track their carbon emissions as part of that management.

Large companies will partner with utilities on projects to accommodate their energy needs rather than simply be at their mercy as clients. Large commercial and industrial buildings will begin to take more responsibility and management of energy use and needs. Demand response, essentially the integration of IT and energy management, will not solely remain the domain of utilities as building energy and management systems become the norm. Expect these companies to use a BEMS service provided to them by their existing building services provider like Johnson Controls, Honeywell, or Siemens. IT services giants like Cisco Systems and IBM could also become large players, according to the report.

Gone are the days when companies had no idea about the volume of carbon emissions they and their partners spewed.

Carbon management systems are mastering the complicated analysis of a company's carbon emissions output and efforts at curtailment, and will stick as a tool despite political disagreement over how carbon emissions in the U.S. should be managed. Carbon analysis and management will become just another type of business process data system offered by IT service companies as part of a company's overall energy management portfolio, according to the report.

The six central smart-grid applications represent an inevitable lurch forward toward a more transparent and controlled use of electricity overall. The changes will benefit residential consumers, industrial energy consumers, utilities, enterprises, service providers, and even automotive companies, according to Pike Research.