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Why the Scorching Summer Underlines the Need for a Smart Grid

<p>Texas, like much of the country, is suffering through an extreme summer heat-wave. While utilities are hesitant to ask their customers to scale back the energy use, smart grid technologies offer a better way to keep the grid up.</p>

I live in Dallas, TX, and it's been hot this year -- scorching hot -- not unlike many other cities across the U.S. As people crank up their air conditioners in attempt to find relief, the utility's solution for preventing rolling blackouts has been a simple request to customers: "please turn off your electronics."

Good luck with that.

Now, whether you believe the rising temperatures are the result of climate change or the Earth's natural weather cycles, there's a bigger issue at stake: my electrical isn't nearly as smart as it needs to be. We need mechanisms in place, ASAP, for balancing spikes in demand. Eating dinner in the dark is the least of my concerns; it's the cost of these power outages to our economy. And frankly, our economy can't afford it.

This is a clear reminder: We need a smart grid, now.

Fortunately, smart grid solutions will help us do more than keep our lights on. They will help us integrate cleaner energy -- to combat environmental damage as a result of burning fossil fuels -- by managing the inherent variability of wind and solar power. And they will provide consumers with tools to manage and reduce energy consumption, which might just save them a buck when they "turn off" their electronics.

The problem is, we can't seem to move fast enough. While deployments are underway and moving forward in many regions, we still have hurdles -- regulatory hurdles, unclear and fragmented energy policy, consumer concerns, challenges with technology interoperability, and more.

There's also one very important challenge I'm not quite sure we've fully grasped yet: How to overcome today's setbacks, while keeping one eye looking forward to plan for and anticipate the future.

As utility executives, business leaders, regulators, investors and environmentalists, we must move forward with our eyes wide open. Some would argue that our grid got to where it is today because we weren't looking far enough ahead.

It's for this reason that we've themed the fifth annual GridWeek conference in Washington, DC, around The Way Forward, with a distinct focus on the future of energy and how that applies to the long-term reliability, environmental sustainability and security of our nation's grid.

Through 40 unique conference sessions and ample networking opportunities, the industry's top leaders will take time to reflect on where energy and smart grid are trending and how to develop solutions that meet the goals of today and tomorrow. Specifically, the focus will be on three themes:

1. Looking forward. Consultants, research companies, utilities and policymakers will put their minds together to present a clear picture of energy's future -- focused on environmental, societal, political and economic movements that will impact smart grid decisions we make today.

One major discussion point will certainly be around energy policy -- or lack thereof -- and how it will impact utility decisions to implement renewable energy on a large scale. This has clear implications for businesses in the clean energy and smart grid sectors.

2. Strategic solutions. Knowing what we can predict about the future, industry leaders will assess what this means from a technology standpoint -- and determine what solutions make the most sense for the long-haul.

Are the best decisions the implementation of smart meters and AMI or distribution automation and asset management? What about EV charging and distributed renewable generation? Or, better yet, how can communities figure out the best solutions for them, making the best use of their natural and economic resources?

3. State of deployments. We can't possibly move forward without knowing where we stand. In an unprecedented display of utility and government participation, dozens of speakers will focus specifically on smart grid deployments in a virtual report card of projects to date.

The best way to approach the future is to get the brightest minds in one room to reflect on where we've been and where we need to go to create a cleaner, more efficient and more reliable grid.

See you at GridWeek. In the meantime, stay cool.

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