Solving our energy grid problems requires a data sharing economy
Solving energy grid problems in New York, Puerto Rico and beyond will depend on innovative leaders who are willing to foster standards and knowledge sharing.
The following is a viewpoint from Lisa Salley, vice president of Global Industry Services at the American Petroleum Institute.
In the energy storage space, all eyes are on Puerto Rico. As the country seeks plans for rebuilding or replacing its energy grid, destroyed during Hurricane Maria, the world is weighing in on how Puerto Rico should create a resilient and sustainable approach to energy storage. But Puerto Rico is not alone. The questions Puerto Rico faces are the same dilemmas municipalities everywhere are grappling with today or will be dealing with in coming years.
There is a small window of time for world leaders to foster development for a smart and sustainable energy storage framework that can be disseminated worldwide. This demands three pillars of energy sustainability: Cooperative Leaders, Standards, and Data and Knowledge Sharing. Fulfilling these criteria won’t be easy. I should know — I’ve led standards development and convened thought leadership in the energy industry across the globe for a long time, whether it was working in electrical distribution in Puerto Rico in the early 90’s or just a few years ago designing safe energy testing protocols in New York City.
Cities and states have begun early adoption of solar energy and nanogrid technologies. As we aim for large scale commercialization, we need leaders in places like Puerto Rico and New York to lay the groundwork to propel smart energy storage to the massive adoption level of the personal computer and the cellphone.
Take New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, for instance. He recently signed legislation intended to incorporate smarter energy solutions, improve system reliability, lower energy costs and ultimately bring the state to its goal of deploying 1,500 megawatts of energy storage by 2025. As he oversees this revolutionary transformation, his administration has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help guide other leaders of energy innovations to develop best practices for standards and data sharing.
That will require corralling industry experts, technology innovators and academics into the same room with government leaders and regulators. They will need to define the gaps between demand and supply, assessing the fragility of the current systems to determine the energy storage capacity needed years down the road. When I hosted UL’s Energy Storage Forum in 2014, we invited leaders from across the spectrum of industry -- from Tesla to Ford to Disney. This can be done.
Here is what needs to be different going forward: Leaders must define ways for other locales to assess their own energy needs in a manner that is more automated than the disconnected and piecemeal approaches of the past. That takes standards. All emerging industries, to varying degrees, must agree on standards to evolve and grow. For sustainable energy storage, this will require development of pre-designed, templated solutions.
Envision an energy storage “kit,” a standard unit for portable power that can be multiplied as needed to ensure that when municipalities do have a portable power need, they don’t have to create a new solution every time. Yes, this means training and certifying personnel with the skills to implement tomorrow’s standardized units of equipment and methods for portable power.
The third piece of this sustainable energy puzzle could be the most difficult to achieve, and that’s data and knowledge sharing. While innovative places like New York have shown willingness to invest in the R&D piece of the equation, as things stand today, most municipalities tend to hold testing, R&D methodology, data and insights close to the vest. In addition to sharing standards, the data itself — the information tracking power consumption and supply, brownout warnings or equipment failures — must be shared, making every system smarter as a result.
Breaking down the barriers between fragmented fixes to build a truly globally-minded framework that advances sustainable energy everywhere will require corporate and government leaders and their administrations to unlock the proprietary data-hoarding methods that are the norm today. They must free the knowledge. We need to ensure that by the time tens of hundreds of municipalities encounter these same energy decisions, they aren’t exhausting redundant resources and dollars, hindering a more-rapid implementation of modern energy storage technologies.
This won’t be easy. However, forward-thinking leaders agree we must facilitate adoption of these technologies en masse.
While corporations, cities and states may be reluctant to share methodology and data, we all have shared problems and shared technological constraints. We will not overcome the obstacles with just one person or one company. We need our leaders — the Gov. Cuomos of the globe — to sit at the same table to enable the widespread potential of a sustainable energy future.
Lisa Salley led GE’s Quality, Process and Systems Engineering group in Puerto Rico for GE Energy, the company’s Electrical Distribution and Control Division, from 1991-1993, and evaluated safe energy testing protocols in New York City as SVP and GM of Global Energy and Power and Controls at UL in 2014. She is currently VP of Global Industry Services at the American Petroleum Institute.