PG&E’s Smart-Grid Guru Explains What Keeps Him Up at Night


The digital-powered smart grid will have to overcome a lot of challenges before it’s reality, and Andrew Tang, senior director of energy giant PG&E’s Smart Energy Web, discussed those issues and what he’s doing about them at the Green:Net conference.

According to Tang, the smart grid’s backbone has to be able to handle the intermittent nature of renewable resources, as well as the strain that future models of plug-in hybrid electric (PHEV) and EV vehicles will put on it. Most important, the grid has to be able to cope with the hundreds of thousands of electricity generators available to it. “Each rooftop solar installation is a generator,” he explains.

Safeguarding the smart grid won’t be easy (and not just from pimply-faced hackers). We can deal with cell phone
outages, but with electricity, “We can’t drop the call”, Tang says. Utilities also have to be prepared for denial of service attacks–a problem that has in the past been limited to computer system administrators and IT geeks.

And then there’s the problem of keeping technology up to date. Wireless carriers get us to switch out our phones every 18 months, but that’s just not possible with smart meters. They have to be built to last. The solution, Tang believes, is to create a strong infrastructure. When the Internet was created, no one could have imagined that it would give birth to bandwidth-intensive sites like Hulu, Facebook, and YouTube. But because the infrastructure is sound, the Internet can handle (almost) everything we throw at it. The same will have to be true of the smart grid.

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