By Jerry Brown
The power grid will go through radical changes over the next 20 years as it becomes smarter and more localized, predicts Steven G. Hauser, vice president of grid integration for NREL.
The changes will be driven by consumers who want to manage their own energy use and by electric utilities recognizing they can no longer rely on the traditional model of increasing their rate base – and earnings – simply by investing in more and more power plants, he said in an interview following a recent presentation to the Colorado Renewable Energy Society (CRES).
“One of the characteristics of this evolution is going to be adopting our local power delivery system to the unique characteristics of the community,” Hauser said, “where a grid is no longer one size fits all (but) is very uniquely designed and operated to optimize for the local resources.”
For, example, Hauser predicted military bases like Fort Carson near Colorado Springs, college campuses and even some neighborhoods will design their own grids around their own localized needs.
“It’s hard to predict what that’s going to look like in 20 years,” Hauser said, “but I certainly have the sense that it’s going to become much more localized and much less regionalized.”
The changes won’t happen at the same speed everywhere, Hauser said. “It’s not like we’re all going to do this. But I think we’ll begin to see segments of the population go in aggressively to rooftop solar, go in aggressively to plug-in hybrids, go in aggressively to storage and smart meters and other technologies. My sense is that will tend to drive the market more than a utility rebate program, let’s say, like we’ve seen in the past.”
One of the reasons Hauser is confident the changes he predicts will happen is that so many of the technologies required to make them happen – electric vehicles, home energy-management systems, smart meters, photovoltaics, for example, -- are “all reaching a tipping point in the market that’s going to be compelling. The point is not the specifics of when each occurs. The point is that all of them will occur in the next decade or less. The magic’s really in the system. The magic’s in the integration of the technologies.”
Increasing awareness as people see what the new technologies can do also will contribute to consumer adoption, Hauser said. “We didn’t know we needed an iPod until we were shown one.”
At NREL, Hauser is responsible for creating strategies and programs for creating a smarter grid. He has been a leader in clean energy for more than 25 years and was the driving force behind the creation of the GridWise Alliance in 2003. He is president emeritus of the alliance, which serves as a forum for ideas and concepts related to smart-grid development.