Seldom have we seen such a worldwide acceptance of a movement as we have with smart grid. And although the efforts to implement smart grid are quite widespread, the term often means different things to different utilities in different countries.

When we were formulating our smart grid strategy at State Grid EPRI, we first acknowledged that the power system is already one of the most complex man-made systems in existence and thus already tremendously sophisticated. And as we reviewed our need for increased intelligence, we came to realize that we need sophisticated systems to simultaneously handle energy and financial flows. With these systems comes the need to handle increased information flows securely.

So, Where Do We Start?

In China, we have come to realize that we need a robust grid if we can build out a smart grid. So we are installing quite a lot of transmission infrastructure, including recently energized 800-kV DC and 1000-kV AC lines to bring power from the West to our load centers in the East.

China has the opportunity to imbed intelligence while the grid is being built. We have this opportunity because our grid is relatively new and expanding quite rapidly. For example, load growth in Shanghai is around 15% a year, which requires us to plan carefully, build quickly and operate effectively.

In China, the generation function and the delivery functions have been split into different state organizations. The State Grid Corporation and the South State Grid Corporation buy power from five major generating companies and other relatively small ones in China. This requires tools to meet the business needs (power markets) and the technical needs (power systems) simultaneously, as both systems share data, knowledge and decision support. Therefore, we are working to provide increasingly sophisticated systems to our operators and scheduling coordinators.

Securing the Grid and Adding Functionality

We are also looking at a unified software platform to handle both static and dynamic situations. For instance, at State Grid EPRI, we have delivered a wide-area monitoring and control system called WARMAP to the State Grid, to the South Grid, to the East China Grid. We are also delivering this system to many of the provincial grids.

At present, we are enhancing the WARMAP product to handle increased data flows and reliably while enabling it to connect with the geographic information system and also to handle multiple faults.

WARMAP provides an early warning system to enable operators to respond to major disturbances, natural disasters or attacks on the system. Ultimately, WARMAP will have the functionality to coordinate multistage dispatch and provide decision support during restoration. An early warning system will enable utilities to respond to disturbances with self-healing grid features.

Smart Grid Systems Must Be Adaptable

We are anticipating a huge increase in large-scale renewable-energy generation, and our power grid will be called upon to deliver this energy to customers. Similarly, as a country, we are being called upon to address environmental issues including carbon-dioxide reduction.

And as we enable our customers to participation in load reduction, load shifting and local generation, additional uncertainties are introduced. We are now considering whether microgrids will make sense to certain customers.

Although nations use different terms for grid intelligence, investments in smart grid should add to the economic value of the grid while enhancing reliability, providing flexibility and enabling environmental solutions.

Let's think “vision power system,” not smart grid. Focusing on the entire energy chain from the generator to customer will enable us to address issues including environmental and energy security. Let's view the smart grid as an evolution, not a fixed endpoint.

We need to avoid the tendency to critically evaluate our grid. We shouldn't look at grids as smart or dumb. Instead, let's look at grid investments in terms of enhanced value. As I mentioned earlier, we need to consider costs, the environment and business needs as well as the technical requirements if we are to build out a flexible and robust grid to meet future needs, whether here in China or throughout the world.


Dr. Xue Yusheng (xueysh@cae.cn) is honorary president of State Grid Electric Power Research Institute (NARI), China. He is also a member of Chinese Academy of Engineering.

Editor's note: Dr. Xue Yusheng shared these thoughts in his keynote presentation at the 4th International Conference on Electricity Distribution (CICED), held Sept. 13-15, 2010, in Nanjing.