Smart grid options examined for industries, commercial buildings, city residents at Siemens event

Smart grid technologies, controlling, monitoring and metering electricity use, applied with the appropriate public policies, can help make cities more attractive for residents, businesses, and industries. Smarter electricity use can increase convenience, lower costs, improve the environment, and augment competitiveness, said experts from the Siemens Smart Grid Tour event.

By Mark T. Hoske, Control Engineering July 15, 2010

Smart grid architecture, applied with the appropriate public policies, can help make cities more attractive for residents, businesses, and industries, by increasing convenience, lowering costs, improving the environment, and augmenting competitiveness. These were among suggestions from technology, policy, and architectural and engineering experts gathered by Siemens for "Siemens Answers: The Smart Grid Tour, in Oak Brook Terrace, IL (near Chicago), the fourth stop in a 10-city U.S. tour.

The tour, with a day of conference sessions, and a tented multi-media dome of related Siemens technologies and applications, provided attendees with insights into smart grid advances.

Daryl Dulaney, president and CEO of Siemens Industry Inc., suggested that Siemens Smart Grid technologies, able to control electricity from source to use, also need smart public policies and regulations for optimal implementation in various applications.

Industry, utilities, public policy people, and technologies providers learn from each other at events like this, noted Wes Sylvester, director, Smart Grid for Siemens Energy. Sylvester, in comments to (CFE Media) advised that industrial and commercial electric utility customers measure electricity use, so they know when they’re using what amount. Significant savings can be available through electricity metering and data management.

Peak demand and other electricity rate incentives can lower costs, as well as renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind, and ground-source cooling; smarter building automation systems can coordinate all of that, Sylvester said. Continuation of smart grid standards also will help, he predicted, such as the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology-driven IEC 61850 standard for substation communications, along with other standards efforts.

A three member panel discussed policies and technologies related to smart grid development. Panelists were:

  • Tristan d’Estree Sterk, The Office for Robotic Architectural Media and the Bureau for Responsive Architecture;
  • Story Bellows, director, The Mayor" Institute on City Design; and
  • Kathy Tholin, CEO Center for Neighborhood Technology and Project Director, Illinois Smart Grid Initiative.

Bellows said that mayors talk most about competitiveness and generally aren’t well-versed in sustainability or energy-related issues. There are opportunties to create new partnerships among utilities, technology providers and city goverments.

"We’re just learning how to have these conversations. There aren’t enough people who are experts rolling out smart grid technologies on an urban scale," Bellows said, adding that technologies applied shouldn’t be closed and proprietary.

Tholin noted that her organization, working on a six-year pilot of real-time electricity pricing, helps consumers–residential, commercial, and industrial–make better decisions. Having the right kind of energy usage information and related benefits ensure more appropriate energy use, Tholin advised.

"Experience says the critical piece is to have customers understand and have a financial stake in ways to change their behavior," Tholin said. "It’s not that complicated, and people are able to respond. We underestimate peoples’ abilities to use smart grid technologies," she said, noting that an "advanced display showing energy use would help." Security can be built in to protect information.

There is a need to invest in technology so consumers can spend money more wisely, agreed d’Estree Sterk. Considerations include the full lifecycle of a structure and its contents, including construction methods and materials.

"Designing for peak loads is an old way of thinking. Changing the ways buildings operate can improve how people live. Next-generation buildings could move in the wind [with more stability and strength than today’s buildings] and respond to the physical loads, contain intelligence, use light weight materials, and save more energy," d’Estree Sterk said.

Many smaller companies are pushing the boundaries of what we deem acceptable, Bellows said, and are today’s testing grounds for sharing best practices on a larger scale tomorrow.

Tholin noted that smart energy choices using technology can extend to transportation, as well. For instance, a bus tracker application for smart phones can make public transportation much more convenient and save time and energy by reducing the need or desire for individuals to own automobiles in metro areas. A smart information system also can help with urban car sharing.

Bellows said another incentive could be mortgages that account for lower costs of nearby transportation to help shift behaviors in more energy efficient ways.

Eventually, though, d’Estree Sterk said the Internet of things, an ecosystem of smart devices, will communicate and automate some decisions about energy use, in line with consumers’ wishes, allowing manual changes when desired.

But from a social justice standpoint, Tholin said, low-income consumers also should be given options to take advantage of lower energy rates with smarter energy use decisions.

That’s not only in new construction. d’Estree Sterk said retrofits can help, for instance, by installing open window and door sensors that alarm or disable air conditioning or heating systems.

Resource allocation remains a challenge. While it’s tough to invest in energy efficiency mechanisms that may not seem completely proven, it’s better public policy, Bellows said, than laying off 20 more firefighers to balance a city budget. If something’s not broken, it’s easier to do what we’ve always done, Bellows said; a crisis may help speed adoption.

Tholin predicts wider integration of buildings, transportation, and energy-related goals, creating more biking, walking, public transport, and electric vehicles tied to off-peak charging.

d’Estree Sterk expects additional use of solar, wind and water to augment the grid in a more distributed fashion. Color shifting surfaces will change the thermal profile of buildings as needed.

"More information needs to be shared about energy use," Tholin said. "Commonwealth Edison is doing a smart grid pilot program with 140,000 households, but if you’re not in the program, you probably don’t know about it." Also, Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) will be bringing a smart grid training center online shortly.

Energy savings needs to begin with design, d’Estree Sterk said. Structures should be designed to educate people about energy use in real time. Water goes down the drain, waste in the garbage, and energy up in smoke, and we aren’t aware of the impacts, he suggested. Intelligent designs with integrated technologies can encourage better decisions.

The panel, titled "Thought Leadership Discussion: Intelligent Infrastructure: The New Urban Habitat," was moderated by a writer for The Economist magazine.

Topics covered in the Siemens Smart Grid Tour conference sessions include:

  • Enabling Generation & Renewables;
  • Phasor Measurement Units and the Grid;
  • Smart Grid Integration;
  • Meter Data Management Systems;
  • Automation in the Grid;
  • Energy-Centric Process Transformation: Bridging Operational Technology to Information Technology to create business value;
  • Buildings of the Future;
  • Preparing a Building for Smart Grid; and
  • Smart Grid – The Vital Role of Industry.

Learn more here:

Also read:

Siemens Automation Summit: Cost-effective ways to reduce risk, limit cost, improve effectiveness

Smart grid can help encourage smarter policies, suggests Cisneros at Siemens event

See other smart grid and energy efficient articles on the Control Engineering Sustainable Engineering Channel.

– Mark T. Hoske, content strategist,, part of CFE Media,