Cisco Smart Grid Assessment

Posted on August 16th, 2011 by
   

Jennifer Lin, Sr. Director of Product Marketing for Cisco, discusses her company’s view on which projects will be key in implementing a successful smart grid.

Full Transcript:

Cisco definitely for sometime was asked by customers and partners to make an entry because I think the state of the grid today is very much a proprietary, siloed, verticalized system approach, with a number subnetworks.  The transition to IP and, specifically, IpV6-based secure networks is part of the area that I think Cisco was asked to take a leadership role, and it is not just from a technology perspective.  We work a lot with industry-level, regulatory bodies on policy, shaping the policy, working with policy makers, as well as thinking about business-process transformation and what are some of the emerging business models that will evolve because smart grid is happening today.

Part of the grid today, much of the grid, is based in substations.  So, we are helping to automate those substations from essentially what is, today, 40- to 50-year-old technology to converged networks, and a lot of these legacy SCADA protocols are now driving onto an Ethernet IP-based network.  With the explosion of smart grid and all of these sensors and meters and everything that is now in the grid, there is an explosion of data.  If you go all the way back into the control center or the data center now, a lot of our utility customers are looking at how do we virtualize and consolidate our data centers to be prepared for this flood of data that is coming in.  When you think all the way out to the premise now ,whether it is a commercial industrial customer or a consumer out at the home, there has been a lot of attention around smart meters, which is obviously one end point onto the system. But, this is really going to allow the interphase between the grid operations and the efficiency that the utilities are trying to drive and the customer or consumer experience that let say the residential customers are trying to drive.

Cisco has also invested in what we call the building mediator for our commercial industrial customers who are essentially helping to aggregate a lot of the information that comes off of building management systems, whether it be HVAC or lighting systems, onto an IP network.  So a lot of that sort of on boarding, onto an IP network, is part of our offer as well.  There is a law in networking called Metcalf’s Law and it says that the value of the network increases with the square of the number of devices that come on. So, the more devices that come on, the more the network value is recognized, whether it be from a security perspective, from a scalability perspective. How do we monitor and troubleshoot all of these devices? How do we provision them? How do we send updates down to all of these meters, that is stuff that we are taking an active role in helping our ecosystem partners with?

Interestingly, for our commercial industrial customers, it is not as much about the meter.  I think a building facilities manager in a commercial operation needs to think about the HVC lighting systems, all of the PCs, etc.. So, how do we once again, now, aggregate that information from all these devices and put in some optimization algorithm so that, for instance, if we know that folks will not be in a portion of the building, we can shut the lights down and that is something that over time could be automated.  All of this automation, whether it is about the lighting system or the IT equipment or the phones that are there, they all suck a lot of power, and when you do these types of policy-driven things in aggregate, that is the benefit of automation fundamentally.  When you do that with sort of one converged network, then really what it is about is driving efficiency and lowering costs and helping the industry essentially accelerate to a better state.

Our role is really as an enabler, so while we are very good at interacting with the IT folks who understand IP networking, now the IT folks are being asked to help the operation side of the house, whether it is the facilities manager or the grid operation people, the teleprotection and control engineer in a substation.  How do we use these technologies to help them do their business better?  They do not want to understand the ins and outs of IP necessarily. But, they want to get the benefits that other networks have gotten out of these technologies.

I have been at Cisco for 12 years, I have done a variety of enterprise service provider applications, and I most recently was in the wireless and mobility space, which is always very interesting because there are many applications.  I think all of the stuff that has been happening has been kind of a warmup for something like smart grid.  Fundamentally, we are designing an automated and intelligence system, which is at a scale that we have never seen in an industry that desperately needs a transformation and it affects everybody.

My 9-year-old son came home from school one day and said they talked about smart grid. Since then, he has asked when I  have put him to bed every night to talk a little bit more about Smart grid.  Kids are really compelled by this idea because now it is not just the black box behind the plug. They really want to think about solar and wind and it is something that the education is starting a lot earlier.  We just always assumed you plug something in and it comes on.  There is a lot more awareness and so I think there is somewhat real personal passion because there is societal value and it is also something that I fundamentally believe our company can play a huge role in.  It is really a lot of fun and very exciting.

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