“Smart Meter? Can I take a picture?”
With a small push of my finger, my camera soundlessly took a photo of the enlarged, over-sized meter as I wondered if my apartment did have a smart meter. Few moments later, I guilty accepted a pot of basil starter kit from the girl in the PG&E booth (Guilty because I know I really should not get another plant. Where is the Garden Anonymous when you need them?)
I know I have heard and read of the word quite a few time online, but soon my thought re-immersed into the million things going on in the Green Festival. I did ended up asking my parents and was happy to learn that the Armstrong Townhome is, indeed, Smart Meter-ed.
Few days later, as I was sitting on bus on the home, I turned on my violet Sansa Mp3 Player and scrolled for a podcast to listen. Being somewhat of a Podcast fanatic, I always have a bunch of podcast files in my player. As I scrolled the screen, thinking about which one to listen to, I paused when I saw “Smart Grid” in the Energy Efficiency Market Podcast by RealEnergyWriters folder.
Smart Grid. Smart Meter. Smart Living. Smart City, Smart Car. ‘Smart and Smart seemed to pop up everywhere!’ I swore that I had seen the Smart Grid and Smart Meter in the same concept somewhere. A frequent reader of anything sustainability-related on and offline, I had some feel as as to what they are. Seemed like a good topic for the ride… and so I clicked the button and started listening. As I am not in the field itself, some of the terms took a moment to grasp. Overall, it was a good and educational podcast episode. I wouldn’t go into the detail since you can listen to them with the link I provided above (Recommended! Maybe I should do a blog post on good green build podcast?)
Another few days passed, I realized why I know the two “smart” concept are related in my mind when a message popped up in my email. I had signed up for several PG&E class earlier in the month. The first one is… yep, Smart Grid. In fact, it’s named Smart Grid Fundamental.
‘Perfect timing.‘ I was just getting more curious about Smart Grid. A fundamental class would be perfect. I was slightly alerted at the fact that goes from 9am to 4:30pm, but I figured the more information the merrier, and I could leave anytime.
Armed with a cup of coffee, I joined the seminar at the PG&E center.
It’s been at least half year since I got to take a class at PG&E (away at college at Cal Poly). So far, I had taken a class on housing development and the Water Conservation show. Both had been very informational, but I think this one have the best organization so far.
As always, the class is at first floor. For each chair space was a Class Resource sheet and a Smart Grid Glossary. Very nice, since I am quite new to Smart Grid. I skim through the paper as I waited for the class to start.
When the class finally started, I was surprised to learn that this is the first time PG&E has done this fundamental class. But then, I guess while I have seen “Smart Grid” popping up everywhere in the net, it’s actually a relative new movement. Time always seems to pass faster with technology, and new technology always seemed to be there forever when its actually just a few years.
The class was generally organized with 2 presenters for each aspect of Smart Grid. The first part was mostly about the general technical aspects, presented by Harold Gallcer and James Caldwell. The movement of Smart Grid in PG&E was presented by Michael Herz and James Meadow. The work of PG&E’s Advanced Technology Integration team in advancing Smart Grid from was by Makoul Zahra. The policy movement and educational aspect was by Annabell Louie. Finally the presentation ends with Rick Geiger, who talked about Cisco’s interconnecting work with the Smart Grid industry.
In the end, I attended to ALL the classes and even stayed for the panel discussion at the end. There was definitely times when I went “what does that word mean?”, not to mention the few times some of the attendee burst in chuckles for reason that I have no clue about. The class did kept my focus on edge though, because the point was that I didn’t really know the topic before, but now I have a stronger grasp of it. Many of the issues that leads to the advancement of Smart Grid… I know the surface of them before. I know the problem existed – but I don’t know the detail and its relationship to other energy issues.
Harold mentioned that Smart Grid is difficult to describe because it’s a concept and not a product, and he later joked that his daughter often used the phase TMI – Too Much Information. And its true – Smart Grid integrates so many factors and co-influences so many technologies and uses, it’s not something that could easily summarize. It’s a grid that transport energy, obviously. But it also deals with intellectual technology. It’s the attempt to allow more client-control over energy, the allocation of energy at different time and location, the ability and efficiency in self-healing, the communication of devices and applications…… 5 different presenters in 6.5 hours, each was able to give new and different understanding of what Smart Grid is about and its place in the world.
When I listened to the way that the presenters and attendees talked about Smart Grid, things started linking. I was suddenly struck with how fitting it was in the sustainability movement, and why the word seemed to catch my eyes at every corner. Smart Grid, in many way, is a localizing movement. The modernism movement sprawled out societies, set up zones, isolating functions from each other. The movement of highway and industrialism created a society of alienation. The Green Festival and the current sustainability movement, in contrast, focused on localization – of small business, of community strength, and individual’s interconnection with society. In many ways, the process of our country’s energy system evolution responded to that change. Smart Grid responded to that change – the ideas of local energy, self healing system, and increase control due to the reduction of boundary.
Harold mentioned that America’s believe of “infrastructure should spread to all” came from our background as a country of democracy. The creation of mail, light, water, and application system are a roll-out of a grid system steamed from that ideal. It reminded me of the influence of Twitter in spreading out democracy, of Occupy Wall Street being one of the first movement with a leader due to the new system of network. And now, our energy is reconnecting in a way stronger than before. Twitter has even become a way to communicate energy problem, letting both the energy center as well as the public know of a black-out. The way we communicate verbally, the way we access energy, the way we value democracy… it is all connected in a way that the starting point cannot be defined.
In the discussion panel at the end, the presenters mentioned that the energy industry will not be the one as we have now 50 years later. Reflecting on my notes from the class today, it is a bit frightening yet absolutely exciting to see the limitless of evolution.