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10 Big Questions About the Smart Grid

A primer for the 68 percent of consumers who have no idea what a smart grid is.

by / September 14, 2012
Massoud Amin, director of the Technological Leadership Institute, and senior member of IEEE, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

At a very young age, Massoud Amin, director of the Technological Leadership Institute, realized that electricity was vital to modern society. Growing up and traveling in Iran in the 1960s, he saw how access to electricity transformed society — from farming, schools, businesses and medical facilities. As a teen visiting New York City, lightning caused a 24-hour blackout, during which Amin observed that the world depends on reliable electricity to support economies and quality of life. The experience reinforced his passion for electrical infrastructure, and he’s been committed since then to helping improve the grid.

Amin, pictured at left, is a senior member of IEEE, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a professional organization dedicated to technology innovation, and chairman of the IEEE Smart Grid Newsletter.

In a recent interview with Government Technology, Amin talks about IEEE ( pronounced I-triple-E) and the smart grid — its complexities, governance and broadband implications.

1. What is IEEE, in a nutshell?

IEEE refers to itself as “the world’s largest professional association dedicated to advancing technological innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity.”  The organization has about 400,000 members in fields as diverse as aerospace, biomedical engineering, computing, consumer electronics, electric power, and telecommunications. It is well known for its professional and educational activities, its peer-reviewed and general-interest technology publications, the conferences it hosts around the world, and its standards development organization.

2. How do you define the smart grid?

The smart grid is a next-generation electrical power system that uses digital technologies — such as computers, secure communications networks, sensors and controls, in parallel with electric power grid operations — to enhance the grid’s reliability and overall capabilities. The smart grid extends to fuel sources for electric power production and the many devices that use electricity, such as household refrigerators, manufacturing equipment or a city park’s lighting fixtures.

In particular, the secure digital technologies added to the grid and the architecture used to integrate these technologies into the infrastructure make it possible for the system to be electronically controlled and dynamically configured. This gives the grid unprecedented flexibility and functionality and self-healing capability. It can react to and minimize the impact of unforeseen events, such as power outages, so that services are more robust and always available.

The smart grid also has very important features that help the planet deal with energy and environmental challenges and reduce carbon emissions. To give a few examples, a stronger and smarter grid, combined with massive storage devices, can substantially increase the integration of wind and solar energy resources into the [power] generation mix. It can support a wide-scale system for charging electric vehicles. Utilities can use its technologies to charge variable rates based on real-time fluctuations in supply and demand, and consumers can directly configure their services to minimize electricity costs. 

3. What’s the IEEE’s role in smart grid?

IEEE is involved in virtually every aspect of smart grid. Its engineers in academia, government and private industry are helping guide its evolution and standardize its technologies and they are deeply engaged in designing, testing and deploying smart grid projects around the world.

IEEE members have published around 2,500 papers on smart grid topics in more than 40 IEEE journals. I’d like to mention, in particular, the IEEE Smart Grid Newsletter, a monthly newsletter, which provides up-to-date news about the smart grid, results of field tests, as well as forward-looking commentary on important issues. It is published

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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.

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