A North American energy consulting firm recently released Smart Grid Integration, which profiles its framework for developing and integrating smart grid applications. The first in a topical series of smart grid insights, the report from ScottMadden Management Consultants gives a relative timing of integration for the transmission and distribution industry.

Currently, the firm reports that a handful of utilities are engaged in distribution automation projects, but that in four to seven years, sensor technology will be embedded on distribution networks with automation becoming routine. There will be some penetration of power electronics. In the longer term, ScottMadden says that dynamic sensing will be commonplace, with increased penetration of power electronics.

The insight also covers demand response, AMI, distributed generation, electric vehicles and customer solutions.

Jake Jacobi, ScottMadden partner and clean tech & infrastructure practice leader, said, "The smart grid is evolving in pieces, like the individual pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. The hope is that, when assembled, it forms a cohesive picture just like a jigsaw puzzle. This might be okay for a jigsaw puzzle that costs $5.95. But smart grid investments in the pieces will total billions of dollars. It is important to think through integration soon so that the smart grid pieces are truly integrated and work together to form a cohesive picture."

The report maintains that to be successful, a utility should develop both an implementation roadmap and a technology roadmap. "An implementation roadmap begins with a clear vision and strategy, capturing functionality, costs, cybersecurity, and grid security. It also provides a detailed schedule and project metrics system." There are many pieces in the developing smart grid.

Participants define the smart grid based on what they hope to get out of it. Where they stand depends on where they sit. Some see it as a means to improve system reliability and efficiency, others as a means to enable renewable generation, and still others as an opportunity to capture market share in consumer data and consumer spend plus a gateway into add-on products and services.

No matter what the view, the transmission and distribution market is finding itself at the crossroads of the energy, communications, and technology industries. It is facing the integration of gigawatts of renewable generation, the advent of electric vehicle development, and the integration of consumers into grid management.

To help sort out this complex landscape, ScottMadden is launching this topical series of insights that will address all the aspects of smart grid integration. It will address business and operational aspects and explore regulatory and utility models that will facilitate the development of the integrated T&D grid.