'Grid-side' management requires greater focus: Academic

Smart meters do not make a smart grid, says incoming University of Sydney chair

Investment in the technology behind smart grid management is vital to ensuring the nation-wide move doesn't fail, according to one academic.

The University of Sydney's incoming Intelligent Electricity Networks chair, Professor David Hill, told Computerworld Australia that while progress had been made overall in the trials and implementation of smart grids around Australia, not enough attention had been paid to the way the data was managed and operating systems that would ensure reliable data transmission.

At present the typical grid is not advanced as it could be, he said.

“Why this is, I don’t know. The capability is there [for smart grids] and some companies such as IBM have decided to move with this," he said. "We’re in a wave of new development and it is much needed as the grids are old."

Smart grid research and trials have accelerated in recent months, with Energy Australia winning the $100 million contract to test the Federal Government's Smart Grid Smart City initiative in the Hunter, Newcastle and Sydney suburbs, a project that could ultimately be worth up to $500 million. Some elements of the project have also expanded to Western Australia, where 9000 smart meters will be rolled out to trial over three years.

Hill said NSW particularly is poised to capitalise on the new technologies, with contributors Energy Australia and IBM likely to gain most.

"The companies see an opportunity to invest some effort into making capabilities stronger," he said.

Other states, such as Victoria, have delays to smart meter and smart grid trials, which Hill attributed largely to the financial burden of the research.

“As a relatively small nation Australia is in an excellent position to pilot and refine smart grids so they underpin future electricity generation and supply around the world.”

However, according to Hill, the misconception that putting a smart meter in every home will create a smart grid held research back.

“It will help consumers but there is another grid side, the management of the larger grid from the home up to the highest voltage. We need guarantees information on voltages, frequencies and phases can be reliably transmitted from one point to another, in order to help avoid instabilities and blackouts. We can’t just put in lines and power plants all over the place but work with what we’ve got."

Hill, who has most recently spent time as as Federation Fellow at the Australian National University (ANU) and contributor to smart grid research at National ICT Australia (NICTA), will join the University of Sydney from 1 November as a chair at the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies, supported by Energy Australia. There, Hill plans to use scientists' expertise to fine tune smart grid intelligence and develop more apt ways of managing the intelligence and 'grid-side' of the network.

“The state of play with smart grids is they are implementing the capability to collect an enormous amount of data," he said.

"This data will come down to street level. Data is not knowledge, it has to be converted into knowledge to see when things might go wrong.”

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Tags smart gridssmart meters

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