TechRepublic’s Karen Roby spoke with Michael Doyle of Capgemini about intelligence solutions to the vulnerability of the power grid. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Karen Roby: Talk a little bit about intelligent systems for our power grid. What needs to be put into place so that we don’t see things happen again like what we recently saw in Texas, for instance?

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Michael Doyle: If you look at it, what’s really interesting is continuing to advance the intelligence we have within the network. As we’ve been trying to digitize the grid, there’s a lot of progress that’s been made, there’s a lot of analytics that goes behind it today. But if you think about it, truly that end point of the grid and at the meter point, it’s a one-way device right now.

What we’re moving towards is intelligence at the edge and allowing that to become an interactive two-way communication that’s occurring at the edge and make that really even a point of analysis and analytics at the edge. As you move more and more there, what you’re able to do is create an environment where you’re not only talking about having a smart grid, but also thinking around it and saying, can you have a smart customer, and can you have a smart city as well?

Karen Roby: Expand on smart cities, if you will, and how this is all factoring in together.

Michael Doyle: If you think about it, when you really start to get that intelligence at the edge, what you start to do is you start to get much more interconnected communications and intelligence. So, what you’re able to do is take the sensing that’s going on in the streetlights, take the sensing, and that’s going to give you indications of what’s happening in the environment and the ecosystem, because so much of what is happening with the grid is about combination of time and location.

And where are you getting those surges because of either time of day, people. And that sensitivity is going to increase, if you think about the increased usage of electric vehicles, is going to create surges that come around very specific points, hotels, restaurants, etc. It’s also going to create surges around times a day. People getting home at the end of the day, plugging in their cars, creating a surge. But if you now have this two-way communication that’s occurring there, what you can actually start to do is interact with consumers and change behaviors.

If you see right now, quite literally two days ago in Texas, we were getting the message from ERCOT to say, “Hey, folks, try to conserve energy.” And the power of just a broadcast message going out versus an interactive app that you’re interacting with consumers around, and they’re actually seeing some reward for them for changing their behaviors, extreme power that comes with that. That’s really where we’re moving within and allowing us then to make this a community that’s interacting versus what right now is these one way broadcasts, “Hey, please don’t run your dishwasher.” “OK.”

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Karen Roby: How far away are we from operating at the edge and that being just the norm?

Michael Doyle: What we’re seeing right now is, we’re actually already seeing several of the utilities across the country that are starting to apply to the PUCs for AMI, what’s being termed as AMI 2.0. And really AMI 2.0 is going to bring that edge capability. So, we’re seeing those applications already starting, the early adopters? Are already starting to move there. I think about a client I was having a conversation with this week, and it was very much around what moves are they making to become a smart city, and how are they working regionally with the city to change what’s happening with the lights, what’s happening with the water system, what’s happening with electrical grid so it truly becomes an integrated smart city? Those conversations are going on now so I would expect to see over the next 18 to 24 months, that coming into the market.

Karen Roby: What is your hope, how important is it, and when we talk about renewable sources and all of these things, why is it so important that people understand, “This is where we need to get?”

Michael Doyle: That’s a great point, because if you actually look at the renewable sources, they’re increasing the challenges of forecasting demand on the network because the sun doesn’t always shine at the same intensity, the wind doesn’t always blow at the same rate. While those are very important parts and increasingly important parts of the network, they are going to be much more variable in nature. What we were going towards, right, is actually now much more smaller and smaller micro grids, rather than the one big grid that’s tied to this big nuclear or coal burning plant.

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As you try to manage that complexity, it is going to become very much about the real-time interaction versus what you would consider, something that works effectively in a one-way world. We all understand the importance of the renewable sources, but they also introduce the complexity that requires a much more intelligent network. That is at the core of making renewables much more a reality in our ecosystem.

Karen Roby: There’s so many layers to this. I mean, I’m sure you could sit on here and talk for hours or days about just what needs to happen, and renewables and all of this. I mean, it’s such a big conversation, and the good thing is I think people are finally starting to hear more about it, and talk about it, and that’s a good thing for our future, right?

Michael Doyle: Right. What I’m excited about is, that future is starting to come to life now. We’ve reached the point where it’s current realities and current opportunities versus just a vision for the future.

TechRepublic’s Karen Roby spoke with Michael Doyle of Capgemini about intelligence solutions to the vulnerability of the power grid.
Image: Mackenzie Burke