I’ve had it with technology. I’m through! Why can’t things just work? Isn’t it easier to make something work all the time than to dream up hundreds of cases where it won’t work?
Today my HP printer refuses to talk to my laptop. This is the same printer I’ve used for four years, and the same laptop that has been sending print to it for over a year (but only after HP saw fit to release a Windows 7 driver for a printer already on sale globally). I have not changed anything recently on either laptop or printer.
But today, nothing. Nada. Zilch. And why? “The document cannot be printed at this time because of a problem with the printer configuration.” Of course. I change the printer configuration every week because it’s so much fun and so easy to do. Especially a 345MB driver that cannot seem to be patched, only downloaded and re-installed. I’m down with that.
This vignette captures in microcosm how traditional IT must change to successfully support smart grids. Can you imagine discovering that you can’t have a cup of coffee tomorrow morning because your coffee maker cannot interact with the power grid? Multiply coffee maker by kidney dialysis, and things get serious in a hurry. But IT seems to have no such worries.
Before I’d even finished fuming at my printer, I came upon an excellent article by Christine Hertzog, of the Smart Grid Library. After reading a recent study from MIT on the future of the Electric Grid, she comments that the study is missing several key concepts. First and foremost: resiliency. I agree completely: resiliency is the keyword for smart grids.
Systems must be designed so that they find a way to keep working even when things aren’t working perfectly – not bail at the first sign of trouble. Utility Operations have understood this for over a century. IT service level agreements (SLAs) just aren’t good enough for smart grids. The power has to stay on no matter what. Who could imagine that, 130 years after the first large scale electrification of a city, we may be voluntarily signing up for an arrangement that no longer guarantees resilience?
Last week a vendor disputed my analysis of their product with a note that read in part, “I don’t think you’ve seen our current messaging on smart grids.” That’s the problem we face: bullet-proof reliability has been moved out of the engineering department and into the marketing department. But crisp market messages won’t keep the lights on and the dialysis machines running. I’m all for strong established vendors entering the smart grid market, as anyone could tell from my Pike Pulse reports. But please give us stronger products, not just stronger web pages.
And finally… thank your lucky stars that I am a cleantech energy researcher. That way you don’t have to endure a rant about my obstinate swimming pool pump.
Tags: Smart Grid Communications, Smart Grid Infrastructure, Smart Grid Practice, Utility Innovations
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