Common Ground Between the Grid and the Cloud

The smart grid and cloud computing have a lot more in common than you might think:

  • They both generate increasing amounts of interest.
  • Not many people have an in-depth understanding of either.
  • They are both credited with causing “paradigm shifts.”
  • Both directly impact the general public in dramatic ways.
  • One enables the other and improves its usability and performance.

This post is about the last point: That cloud computing enables the smart grid and improves its usability and performance.

Integration, Interface and Intelligence

Let me explain how. According to the US Department of Energy, we should “think of the smart grid as the Internet brought to our electric system…. Devices such as wind turbines, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and solar arrays are not part of the smart grid. Rather, the smart grid encompasses the technology that enables us to integrate, interface with and intelligently control these innovations and others.” Translation:  The smart grid allows for intelligent power distribution and management.

The smart grid accomplishes this by utilizing digital technology to transmit, distribute, monitor and deliver electricity to consumers in a more reliable and efficient way than traditional power systems. Just as cloud computing is more reliable and efficient than previous IT models, the smart grid is more secure and efficient than its traditional counterpart.

The goals behind the smart grid are:

  • To build a low-cost network of power system equipment and information
  • To improve the capability of data collection, integration, analysis, and mining

The Power of Distributed Resourcing

With the smart grid, electricity use is monitored and controlled from generation to consumption utilizing digital technology and two-way, Machine-to-Machine (M2M) communication. This M2M communication gives consumers the ability to monitor and control systems in the home, including individual appliances. By giving consumers real-time information, consumers can save energy, reduce costs, and increase reliability. This is made possible by an intelligent monitoring system that keeps track of all electricity flowing in the system. Smart meters monitor a home’s electric consumption and utilities communicate real-time pricing information to the consumer, perhaps incentivizing them to adjust their thermostats or run appliances—such as dishwashers—at non-peak demand times by offering them price reductions. By offering such incentives, utilities effectively reduce and redistribute demand during peak hours.

The smart grid accomplishes these tasks by incorporating distributed computing, or the use of multiple autonomous computers that communicate through a computer network. Cloud computing technology is distributed computing. In cloud computing, when a customer needs more of the service (software, infrastructure, or platform), the cloud provider adds resources to the environment. In a smart grid, power resources are generated based on capacity and allocated where the power provides the most benefit in price and performance. Coordinating a power grid is similar to organizing data in a cloud-computing infrastructure. Both involve matching usage with processing power and delivering the service on-demand, quickly, and efficiently.

It’s common sense to match usage with demand, but it took M2M two-way communication to make the smart grid smart just as it took cloud computing to enable the delivery of services, computing and infrastructure on demand. In these ways, both cloud computing and smart grids represent paradigm shifts in their respective industries.

Do you agree? Share your thoughts.
Jeff Huegel Cyber Security Chief Architect AT&T About Jeff