Solar Energy and Smart Grid: A Talk With Capgemini

Renewable energy sources like solar and wind have the potential tostrongly contribute to our electricity mix in years to come. To get abetter grasp on how solar and our electrical grid work together, I satdown with Gary Paul and Andy Roehr, both Vice Presidents of Capgemini’sSmart Energy Practice in North America.

The smart grid is one of the “key applications” we need in order toscale solar energy. But how do we get to a point where the grid startsto evolve and modernize? Paul and Roehr both agree that our first stepis to promote decoupling.  Now, most utility’s profits are linkeddirectly to how much electricity is sold. Capgemini’sextensive research has found that we need to break this link andinstead create direct incentives for demand side management and energyefficiency that are equal to or better than incentives for energyproduction. As Roehr puts it, if we are able to “classify conservationas having a monetizable economic impact,” then we will be better ableto align decision makers and investors in instituting policies thatencourage smart grid growth. Paul adds that the basic fundamental to beput in place is

[E]nergy policy that supports utilities to make the samekind of returns for saving energy as they do for producing anddelivering energy.

This is the first step we must take in getting a smart grid off the ground.

When we got to talking about solar energy in particular, Paul andRoehr believe that increases in distributed solar power (such asrooftop PV) will mostly affect the lower-voltage distribution part ofthe grid. The more that comes online, the more we will be driven tohave command and control capabilities in order to safely manage how theclean electricity feeds into the grid. By placing clean solar energyclose to its source of consumption (the home or office building), these“microgrids” will enable us to optimize the way we deliver energy. Paulpoints out that they will also help us optimize the way in which we useand consume water – a component of the smart grid and energy use thatis just beginning to step into the conversation.

Capgemini is one of the first groups to tackle smart gridimplementation through a partnership with Hydro One in Ontario.Beginning in 2005, the groups launched an Advanced MeteringInfrastructure (AMI) initiative to install smart meters in every homeand small business. Paul and Roehr admit that they all learned a lotfrom this experience, particularly with regard to security issues andhow to stay abreast of ever-evolving technologies. It’s a good thing NIST just released 77 interoperability standards,so that older devices will be able to communicate with newer ones asthey penetrate the marketplace. To learn more about Capgemini’s smartgrid experience with Hydro One in Ontario, check out this neat video.

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