How global smart grid deployments affect the U.S.

By Megan Dean, Sr. Research Analyst, Zpryme

Currently, each country worldwide has deployed its section of the smart grid independently, with little collaboration or sharing of information. Although each country has the same idea to create a connected, energy efficient electrical system, each has been driven by its own goals and interests. 

Despite the centralized view of countries, deployment of the smart grid internationally affects growth of individual countries in two main ways. First, international firms partner with countries to utilize core technology and further develop their product offerings. Second, smart grid advancements in one country produce products offered internationally. Through vendor-country partnerships and international product lines, the smart grid has begun global deployment, however further international cooperation and collaboration is necessary for the world to smart grid to reach its full potential. 

The first way global deployment of the smart grid is able to affect disparate countries is through vendor collaboration with diverse countries. Several large firms have offices worldwide, such as IBM, GE, and Cisco Systems. As each company works in each nation, their skills are refined, their knowledge increased, and their products modified. Not only does this experience make them more valuable in the field, they take this knowledge as they work in new locales. The vendors are then able to shape the global smart grid through the collective experience firms attain worldwide. In this way, developments made by their firm in Asia are able to influence the deployment of the smart grid in North America. In this way, the private sector development of products and services is based on international innovation and is able to be deployed on any project in which the vendors engage. 

Another way that smart grid deployment internationally can affect development in individual nations is through international trade. This was recently experienced in the United States when Chinese solar panels were available on the US market. Chinese manufacturers were able to produce solar panels locally, then offer them on the international market. Another example is found in the Japanese development of grid scale batteries for energy storage. These sodium sulfur batteries were developed to meet energy storage needs first in Japan. Then the firms were able to offer the batteries on the international market. Now batteries produced in Japan are being used in countries like South Africa and India to serve in new micro-grid projects, as well as being implemented around the world as back-up power sources. In each instance, local manufacturers worked first to meet the needs of their nation, and then offered the products to meet needs around the world, thus influencing the smart grid development in the areas they are implemented. 

For the global smart grid to reach its full potential, global cooperation and collaboration is necessary. Communication between nations has been minimal. This has prevented countries from learning from the successes and mistakes of deployment in other countries. Therefore, each country has followed essentially the same path to smart grid deployment, with minimal differences based on the country’s goals. That also means they have made similar mistakes. Increased collaboration could create International Standards to ensure that any smart grid devices could be used worldwide. The IEA states “Greater international collaboration is needed to share experiences with pilot programs, to leverage national investments in technology development, and to develop common smart grid technology standards that optimize and accelerate technological development and deployment while reducing the costs for all stakeholders.” Pilot projects have been conducted worldwide on the full spectrum of smart grid areas including EVs, solar, wind, biomass, co-generation, micro-grids, and many more. Sharing the knowledge gained in the projects would rapidly accelerate technological advancements and smart grid deployment. All areas of the world would be able to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and experience increased efficiency. The smart grid could be deployed in remote locations currently unable to attach to the grid. Costs would be reduced for all users, as well. In short, the benefits of deploying the smart grid could be experienced more rapidly worldwide with increased collaboration of nations. 

Currently there is no international collaboration on smart grid technology and deployment. Information is only shared in two ways. First, vendors are able to work internationally and thus bring their collective knowledge and experience to new countries. Secondly, as local vendors are able to develop products from their nation’s goals and needs, they are able to introduce it on the international market. Although there is a movement to create international standards to facilitate collaboration, further cooperation is needed to allow nations to enjoy the full benefits of the smart grid.

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