The Real Reasons We Must Have a Smarter Grid for the 21st Century

04/22/2019, 11:00AM-12:00PM, Oak Room, University Union, California State University, Sacramento

SPEAKER: Dr. Merwin Brown, Retired Affiliate Sr. Advisor, Electric Grid Research, California Institute for Energy and Environment, University of California, Berkeley


Significant events and trends in the electric industry community over the last 5 decades exerted a compounding influence of growing complexities and uncertainties for electric service institutions, and their infrastructure and its operation. By the end of the 20th century, the ways electric systems were planned, owned, built, operated, regulated, used, and bought and paid for would never be the same. The 21st century electric grid owner, operator, planner and regulator face growing uncertainty, complexity, inadequacy, conflict, and the need for flexibility, robustness, real-time situation awareness, probabilistic forecasting and rapid response. No longer can the grid planners and owners “build” their way out of these problems using traditional wires, towers and power plants alone. New technologies will be needed to make grid planning, permitting, building and operating easier and less costly, especially technologies that make the grid smarter. The choice in the late 19th century of the alternating current (AC) electric grid, which was promoted by Westinghouse and Tesla and became the grid of the 20th century, instead of the direct current (DC) grid championed by Edison, was enabled by electric transformer technology. Similarly, the emergence of advanced electronic technology and computer-aided analytics, fortuitously about the time the problematic trends began for the 20th century grid, is enabling the smart grid needed for the 21st century. There remains, however, a need to balance new “smart” grid technology adoption with the development of new technologies for improving the physical capabilities of the infrastructure. By examination of the challenges of integrating variable renewable generation and the electric gird - probably the currently defining challenge for the electric grid, this presentation will describe some exemplary electric grid problems and potential solutions for the 21st Century.

Dr. Merwin Brown was the Director, Electric Grid Research (EGR) for the California Institute for Energy and Environment (CIEE), University of California. EGR conducts technology research to modernize electric grids for implementing California’s environmental policies. 
Dr Brown has 45+ years of experience in electric industry (e.g., PG&E, Arizona PS, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Gas Cooled Reactor Associates, University of California, Berkeley), mostly managing energy technology research teams, programs/projects. He has served as a utility business planner (PG&E), and an industry advisor in numerous capacities and forums, and was a member of the US DOE Electricity Advisory Committee (2012-2017) and chairman of its Energy Storage subcommittee.
Dr. Brown holds BS, PhD, in nuclear engineering from Kansas State University.