Could the day come when manufacturers adjust their production schedules according to real-time electricity price rates? That's the hope of Gridwise Alliance, a consortium of automation and utility companies exploring technologies that will revolutionize the nation's electricity grid. While still in the development stages, the eventual goal is to utilize information technologies that will result in a "smart grid" that will provide flexible and adaptive power for all consumers.
For manufacturers, this might mean the ability to monitor electricity prices hourly, much like the stock market or an eBay auction, says David Hardin, technology officer for Invensys Process Systems Eastern Operations and a member of the Gridwise Architecture Council.
"Pricing information will be richer than it is now, and fluctuate more in real time, with fluctuating price information entering the manufacturing equation," explains Hardin. "Then, intelligent systems can take that information and do some online energy management relative to the pricing information that's coming from the utilities. So it adds another dimension to power management and energy management in a plant."
In contrast to the current system, which in most cases provides manufacturers with pricing information during peak times, automation control technology will allow plants to make operational decisions based on hourly data, such as shutting down a line when costs are higher. "Manufacturing plants will have some more information they can roll into their decisions and have more real-time than static," Hardin says.
Gridwise's current action plan addresses three challenges:
- Identify, characterize and fill technology gaps by leveraging industry for input to develop a roadmap and R&D plan.
- Use industry expertise to develop a framework for interoperability (facilitate information sharing between different information systems).
- Make a compelling case for the initiative through projects and proposals to "promote opportunities for collaborative funding."
So far, the Gridwise Alliance has established a conceptual framework for addressing interoperability challenges and has engaged influential stakeholders to create an interoperability "constitution" that lays the procedural ground rules for Alliance actions. The organization also has created a checklist of considerations for improving interoperability within business and throughout the overall economy.
The Alliance's goal now is to build community awareness about interoperability to improve communication among the growing number of automation systems throughout the electric energy spectrum.