Artech House just published the book “The Advanced Smart Grid: Edge Power Driving Sustainability“, by Andres Carvallo and John Cooper, two of the architects of the first implementation of Smart Grid, in Austin TX.
The book reads like an essay: it can be read cover to cover (I did so in a weekend); it is not really a reference book, as it would be hard to “look something up” in it.
The first few chapters are instructive, though the writing is hardly scintillating. Then, in chapter 4, one of the authors switches to the 1st person and recounts his personal experience in leading Austin Energy from a ho-hum power company, to the first company to create the Smart Grid concept and implement it. It may not have the impact of an action novel, yet I found myself excitedly reading the remarkable achievements of a little, city owned utility, as if I were reading about NASA’s conquest of the moon.
The authors use an interesting approach to looking into the future: in a few sections, they switch their point of view to the 2020′s, looking back to the history of how the Smart Grid evolved to “today”, what challenges were encountered and how they were solved. For example, they describe how, “back in 2016″, thousands of EVs converged to the SXSW (South By South West) fair, and how Austin Energy coped with the sudden rise in EV loads as well as the availability of energy from them. (I am looking forward to that prediction coming true, and actually driving one such EV to the 2016 SXSW.)
The book is touted as a “how to”, but if you’re looking for actual technical guidelines you may be disappointed. It would appear that the authors heard the engineers and IT staff talk about the technology and the software involved, and got a vague idea about them, but all they can do is recite its jargon without truly grasping their functionality. That lack of clarity comes across, for example, when the book discusses EVs: from reading the bulk of the book you would think that a simple EV is a energy source, not a load, which it normally is. Towards the end, the book does mention V2G (Vehicle To Grid) technology: the (rare) V2G equipped EV is indeed capable of being both a power source and a load; but that is not explained earlier, when the book categorizes EVs as a resource.
The book’s true audience is managers (power company managers, CEOs of equipment manufacturers, politicians, city councilors and managers). The staff that would actually implement a smart grid would find it useful to get an idea of the goals, but may get a misleading view of the technology used. From a technical perspective, the book has quite a few interesting errors, such as using Hertz to measure voltage, and the charmingly amusing assertion that the extra energy from a solar panel on the roof that is not used by the home is send to ground (!).
While the book has some nice looking tables and graphs, they are not totally legible due to the combination of small font size and use of gray scales resulting poor contrast. Some tables show data without explaining what the numbers represent. Some graphs give the impression that information is being conveyed by the arrangement of the terms, when in reality they are simply lists of terms in no particular orders, just arranged to they fit nicely in the figure. A few graphs imply a flow (process flow, data flow) even though either there is no such flow in reality, or, if there is, it wasn’t apparent to me after reading the text. The book would have benefited from the use of before-and-after pictures, and graphs showing the effects on Austin Energy and its consumers, as a result of implementing Smart Grid.
While the focus is primarily on Austin, the book does a good job at reviewing other Smart Grid projects in the US. Readers outside the US will have to make do with reading about the US experience.
All and all, I found this book to be well written and informative. I believe that it would be essential to managers of cities, power companies and product manufacturers, to understand the benefits of Smart Grid, be prepared for the travails of implementing it, and learn the pitfalls to avoid. Reading it would be also instructive to the staff charged with actually implementing Smart Grid, for general overview, not as a technical guideline.