Technology Needed to Support a Greener, Smarter Grid

Seattle City Light Information Technology Director Dirk Mahling was interviewed by CIO Talk Radio regarding the future of energy services as utilities try to incorporate more sources of renewable energy into the existing distribution grid and how technology can help.
Photo of Seattle City Light Chief Information Officer Dirk Mahling.

Seattle City Light Chief Information Officer Dirk Mahling, Phd.

Seattle City Light Chief Information Officer Dirk Mahling, Phd., was interviewed by CIO Talk Radio regarding the future of energy services as utilities incorporate more sources of renewable energy into the existing distribution grid and how technology can help.

Among the considerations Mahling identified were growing customer installations of solar and response to peak energy demands.

Neighborhood solar requires the distribution grid to run forward and backward with electricity flowing in both directions. “The smart grid can help to monitor the flows of electricity to make sure that distribution lines are not over-taxed and to make sure that the standard the utility has to hold — 60 hertz for distribution — that there is no reactive power or power quality considerations,” Mahling said.

Peak energy loads drive up energy costs for utilities and their customers. Demand response programs that help customers reduce their use during peak loads — sometimes with automated reductions in air conditioning, lighting or water heating — can create significant savings for customers and utilities.

“Again, you need the information from the smart grid to see the peak occurring to predict it, but then you need to communicate with all those loads on your grid to inform them that the time has come to do that demand reduction,” Mahling said. 

Investments in the distribution network will be needed to support this convergence of technology, neighborhood electricity generation and energy distribution, Mahling said. Seattle City Light has several strategic initiatives underway in this area, including substation and distribution automation.  

“The part of the grid that touches the customer needs to be able to handle the requirements both from an electrical and an informational standpoint,” he said.

Listen to Mahling’s full interview here.