CEP: Editorial - Get Smart about Electricity


According to the Edison Foundation, nearly 40% of U.S. households, about 46 million residences, are outfitted with a smart meter for monitoring and managing electricity use. Some of these meters operate under direct load control (DLC), which allows the utility to intermittently interrupt service to connected appliances — such as electric heaters, central air conditioning systems, water heaters, hot tubs, and clothes dryer heating elements — during periods of peak electricity demand. In return for their willingness to accept these short (typically no more than a few hours) power interruptions, customers receive a payment or a credit on their electric bill. Smart metering is a form of demand-side management, and is an important part of the evolving smart grid.

Smart grid is the topic of this issue’s energy supplement (pp. 25–50). Organized by Bond Calloway of Savannah River National Laboratory and Don Chmielewski of the Illinois Institute of Technology, these four articles look at a type of demand-side management known as demand response (DR) from the perspective of the chemical process industries (CPI).

Why should chemical engineers and CPI companies care about the smart grid? The electric power industry continues to change, and the relationship between the CPI and electricity providers is changing as well. The smart grid will play an increasingly important role in this evolving relationship. Through demand-response programs and other demand-side management techniques, the smart grid can provide new avenues for process and plant optimization, new opportunities for energy efficiency, and even new revenue streams.

While smart metering and direct load control are relatively simple to implement in the home, extending the concept to a CPI plant is far from straightforward. You might be willing to allow the temperature in your home to rise a few degrees, especially if you’re being paid for it. Imagine, though, what would happen if the electric company reduced the power to equipment in a chemical plant.

Nevertheless, some CPI companies have found ways to profit from such an arrangement. The large thermal mass in its smelters enables an aluminum producer to accept a power interruption of several hours without suffering negative effects, allowing it to provide 70 MW of demand response; its $750,000 capital investment paid for itself in four months. When electricity prices are at their peak, a paper mill reduces (or stops) pulp production and processes pulp from intermediate storage. These and other examples of industrial demand-side management are discussed in “Industry Meets the Smart Grid” (pp. 45–50).

The smart grid does not require replacement of the transmission and distribution infrastructure, but rather adds a cyber layer and a market layer to the existing physical layer.  “The Basics — What? Why? Who? How?” (pp. 28–34) discusses these layers and the interactions among them.

Communication across the layers is critical to those interactions. “Implementing Automated Demand Response” (pp. 40–44) describes the development of a communication and automation system that can be interfaced with existing industrial process control systems.

 If the thought of implementing demand response seems daunting, keep in mind that most grid operators require electricity customers to work with a curtailment service provider (CSP). “You Are Not Alone” (pp. 35–39) explains how a CSP acts as an intermediary between the consumer and the utility.

It would not be smart to let these opportunities pass us by.


Author Bios: 

Cynthia Mascone

Cindy Mascone is Editor-in-Chief of Chemical Engineering Progress, AIChE’s member magazine. She has more than 25 years of experience as a technical editor and writer, including four years as the head of her own freelance consulting business, Engineered Writing. Previously, she worked for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards.

She holds a BS in chemical engineering and engineering and public policy from Carnegie Mellon Univ., and has been an active member of AIChE and Society of Women Engineers.Read more

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