National Grid is Working at the Pace of Innovation

Harnessing New Clean Energy Technologies to Benefit Customers Today and Tomorrow
Jul 2, 2018 3:25 PM ET

The following article is taken from “Working at the Pace of Innovation” chapter of Dean Seavers’ Democratization of Energy eBook.

It’s now hard to imagine a world without the Internet, social media, tablets, and smart phones – yet these technologies have all been around for less than 20 years. Society embraced these innovations and they are now part of our daily lives.

It’s also hard to imagine a world without the energy that makes these modern marvels possible. As I’ve mentioned previously, though, the technology behind the electric grid has not improved much since its inception about a century ago. That’s all changing now at a pace our industry – and our customers – have never before experienced.

Do we know exactly where all this change will lead us? Absolutely not. But history tells us that the moments of greatest uncertainty are the most important times to innovate.

That’s why we’re collaborating with new partners to investigate the next wave of energy technologies. Creating a playground of innovation means we have to take some risks – not every technology will be a game-changer – but I’m confident that it will help us find some answers for how to transform our energy networks and deliver a decarbonized future.

That approach has already connected us to new technologies that will help meet the needs of today’s – and tomorrow’s – energy customers: 

  • Grid-scale energy storage systems, such as batteries, that help us enhance the existing grid and avoid massive infrastructure projects. They also enable an efficient grid that can handle more variable renewable energy resources.
  • Robots that inspect or repair pipes, lines, towers, or substations can improve safety and our response to power outages. We’re currently testing a robot that can inspect and make minor repairs to transmission lines.
  •  Unmanned aerial systems, also known as drones. These devices, which we currently are testing on our high-voltage lines, have the potential to lower costs and increase safety by performing visual inspections and maintenance, without needing to deploy helicopters.
  •  Automated substation controls that enable us to operate electric substations remotely for the first time, improving our response to power outages, reducing costs, and allowing us to shrink the size of our facilities. Automation also will enable us to hook up more distributed energy resources like solar and wind. 
  •  Online monitoring and data analytics enable realtime monitoring of our equipment, giving us a better understanding of conditions in the field. In turn, this enhances our ability to predict when upgrades or replacement are necessary. When coupled with data analytics, monitoring becomes a powerful tool to help us manage important energy equipment.

National Grid is a founding utility in Energy Impact Partners (EIP) - a novel venture capital firm launched in 2015 to fund companies developing emerging technologies like these. Our participation in EIP will increase our understanding of high-tech advancements and allow us to bring innovative energy technologies to our customers. 

We’re already seeing some early success with EIP investments, including: AutoGrid – a company whose software enables energy companies to deliver costeffective, clean and reliable energy by managing networked distributed energy resources such as solar and wind in real time on a large scale.

We’re also working with Sense, whose app lets you track the energy you use at home like a grocery receipt – item by item, so you’ll know where your money is going. You can also use Sense to control and automate everything from your garage door to your dishwasher.

And Opus One Solutions is a startup that envisions a connected energy internet providing real-time energy management to the grid. You heard in our “New Buffalo” chapter how National Grid and Opus One are developing a first-of-its-kind demonstration that will integrate backup generators and other energy resources from the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus with National Grid’s electricity distribution system.

EIP has introduced National Grid to dozens of other companies innovating in areas such as energy storage, smart grid, big data and analytics, and the “internet of things.” Access to these companies is helping us rapidly deepen our knowledge of trends, technologies and capabilities so that we can work at the pace of innovation. 

I’d be willing to bet that the energy system 20 years from now will offer far greater flexibility, choice, and control than the systems we have today. I know that technology and innovation will play a key role in building energy networks of the future. So we are embracing the changing landscape and pushing the innovation envelope to anticipate and meet the changing needs of our customers and communities. 

About the Author

Dean Seavers joined National Grid in December 2014 as President of National Grid in the U.S.

Dean’s long career has included leadership roles at GE, United Technologies, and Tyco. He led GE Security, a $2 billion product and technology group, and he also led a $4 billion global services portfolio for United Technologies.

At Red Hawk Fire & Security, Dean’s most recent venture, he was a founder and served as President and CEO. Red Hawk quickly became the second largest independent fire and security platform in the U.S., providing integrated security solutions to large and mid-sized commercial customers.

Dean has a strong background in financial strategy, performance improvement, and operational leadership. At National Grid, his focus is on continuing the performance progress that underpins the company’s U.S. business while driving its Connect21 agenda of building the advanced natural gas and electricity networks that are the foundation of our 21st century digital economy.

A native of Sandusky, Ohio, Dean graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in business from Kent State University and earned an MBA from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business.

Dean and his family have a home in Boston.

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