Technological Leadership Institute Director Envisions the Smart Grid

Massoud Amin discusses the smart grid’s sustainability and the future of energy consumption.

by / August 29, 2012
Massoud Amin, director, Technological Leadership Institute, University of Minnesota. Flickr/Poptech

Massoud Amin is director of the University of Minnesota’s Technological Leadership Institute, an organization dedicated to forming connections between engineering, science, business and technology. Amin, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, recently was listed as a mover and a shaker in the smart grid industry by GreenTech Media. He is also chairman of the IEEE Smart Grid Newsletter. In an abridged email interview, Amin discusses the smart grid with Government Technology.

How do you envision the smart grid in the next 10 years?

Scenarios for a smart grid vary wildly. But a common understanding [is] that in the coming years, electricity will play a much greater role in global society. It is entirely possible that nations, regions and cities that best implement new strategies and infrastructure could reshuffle the world pecking order. It’s very possible that emerging markets could leapfrog other nations in smart grid markets and deployment.

Massoud is reading Make It in America: The Case for Re-Inventing the Economy, by Andrew Liveris, chairman and CEO of the Dow Chemical Company.
Global drivers for smart grid development and deployments are multifaceted, and there are no cookie-cutter solutions. The drivers are often created by local, regional and/or national priorities, and drivers for advanced economies can differ from those of developing ones. Motivations are also influenced by a variety of factors in the larger macrosystem, such as standards, technologies and policies.

What does it mean to have a sustainable smart grid?

How can we have one? Smart grids have the potential to substantially reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions. In fact CO2 emissions alone could be reduced by 58 percent in 2030, compared to 2005 emissions.  

Microgrids that localities build to serve campuses, communities and cities will contribute to smart grid sustainable benefits. Microgrids are wonderful examples of the “think globally, act locally” principle. They draw their energy from locally available, preferably renewable resources. They use smart grid technologies to continually monitor customer demand, and they offer innovative pricing and other programs to manage the load and encourage customers to conserve energy. The microgrid ships any excess capacity back into the grid.

Why is it important for states and localities to build a smart grid infrastructure?

I’ve mentioned the overloaded grid conditions we have today. Yet the situation is certain to get much worse, especially with the increasingly digital society. Twitter alone puts a demand of 2,500 megawatt hours per week on the grid that didn’t exist before. Because of increasing demand, experts believe that the world’s electricity supply will need to triple by 2050.

Does the smart grid need to have a self-healing infrastructure?

It needs a self-healing infrastructure to ensure that [the] power grid can continue to operate reliably for businesses and consumers who depend on it. A smart grid that is overlaid with the various sensors, communications, automation and control features that allow it to deal with unforeseen events and minimize their impacts will be resilient and secure.

Not only can a self-healing grid avoid or minimize blackouts and associated costs, it can minimize the impacts of deliberate attempts by terrorists or others to sabotage the power grid.


Karen Stewartson

Karen Stewartson served as the managing editor of Government Technology for many years. She also contributed to Public CIO and Emergency Management magazines.