The Unavoidable Future—Q&A with Cyro Boccuzzi

This past week, I had the opportunity to pick the brain of Cyro Boccuzzi, IEEE senior member and executive vice president at Brazil-based Enersul, as well as a smart grid technologies expert. Not only did he have insight into smart grid technology and trends, but he also says smart grids are the unavoidable wave of the future.  

Home Energy: How are smart grids revolutionizing residential energy?

Cyro Boccuzzi: Smart electricity grids can potentially promote an extensive revolution in the way everybody uses energy at home.

Specifically talking about energy supply, the existing electricity grids are capital intensive and the costs of supply are not the same throughout the day. Smart meters are currently being deployed in many countries to enable the use of dynamic tariffs, which vary throughout the days and months, better mirroring the costs of supply. So clients that modulate their electricity usage out of the peak hours will have reduced costs for their supply and lower bills, while clients that concentrate their use in a peak period will experience an increase in their bills in the future.

HE: What are some up-and-coming trends we can expect to see for homeowners and home performance professionals in the field?

CB: First of all, technology is moving fast toward energy efficiency. From a practical approach, this means that appliances in general are becoming more and more efficient, or using less electricity to perform the same final usage. This is true not only for light bulbs, which are the most popular and visible evolution, from the carbon filament bulb to the LED one, but also for motors, electronic devices, and household appliances in general. So there will be a big opportunity for home retrofitting as electricity prices increase.

Second, the new generation of home appliances will advance to having programmable features and radio transmitters that can communicate with smart meters. These appliances will be able to interpret the current tariff and so the convenience or not to be turned on, in a particular moment, for example during peak hours when prices are higher, depending on energy use policy defined by the homeowner. There will be a big opportunity to coach residential clients on how to save costs and energy on their day-by-day activities.

Another important change that will be in place in the near future relates with generating part or the total electricity needs locally. In many European areas it’s already very common to see solar photovoltaic panels locally producing part of the electricity used inside the house. This   technology is dramatically improving in terms of efficiency, and being more and more affordable. The main revolution in this area, however, will take place when a new generation of high-efficiency batteries reaches the market at affordable prices. Significant investments are currently being made in this research, especially funded by the automobile industry, to make electric vehicles economically viable. This will probably happen in less than 5 years, when it will be possible to store power from the produced energy during the day for a more convenient time of use. This solution will also get electronic management controls that enable programming features. PV panels will be a must in homes of the near future, and this will be a big change to receiving all the electricity out from the local utility company.

HE: Are there any trends or news specific to Brazil, where you’re based?

CB: The Latin American home energy market is growing at a higher pace than the rest of the world as income and quality of life have been improving in most countries, especially Brazil.

The Smart Grid Forum Latin America was created 5 years ago with the purpose to share already existing experiences and intelligence and offer that to Latin American countries, not exactly to copy but mainly to adapt to its reality and needs. The Forum has been bringing the most influential leaders to Latin America not to only teach what they did right, but also to share their lessons learned didn’t go so well. These professionals have helped the local leaders to discuss, with their experience, how to tackle specific requirements for Latin America. The organization’s conferences have simultaneous translation to the local languages, so that all the interested local parts can actively participate and get involved, learning, sharing, and debating their experience and points of view.

The conferences are also an important networking opportunity for people in the area, and a reference point for the next improvements that will happen in the near future in this field. The 2012 Conference & Exhibition will happen in São Paulo, Brazil, November 27–29, 2012. I would like to invite your readers that may be interested in Latin America market to join our conference this year. (More info available at www.smartgrid.com.br.)  

HE: Where do you see the most efficient use of smart grids? Do you think they'll become the global norm?

CB: “Smart grid” is the generic name for a big basket of technologies, and not a one-size-fits-all tool. The use and the benefits of each technology involved in the macro smart grid concept depend of each location and service area you are going to serve. For example, many utilities in USA have severe local transmission constraints bringing huge reliability costs. This problem can be partially solved with transmission automation and managed by demand response, using adequate price policies and smart metering. But even in the US, different utilities may have very different motivations to use or prioritize part of the technologies in the basket, leaving other parts for the future. For other utilities, the problem of managing the peaks may not be as important as the problem of energy theft prevention, and so the technology and the features to be implemented have a different economic motivation.

So, as electricity service is a public concession, each case must have an economic model that justifies implementation and also a reasonable return not only for the stakeholders but also for society. Because of this, each case is different and therefore must have a business case to back up implementation.

Smart grid technologies are already becoming a global trend, as many types of equipment that are currently being sold as shelf solution for utilities are already being installed.  Scale growth will improve the economics returns, and I believe that in 5 to 10 years ahead or less, this will be the standard, at least in large urban center and main cities, where the service is more critical and the benefits seem to return faster.

HE: What effect do you think smart grids have on the home performance industry as a whole?

CB: I have no doubt that as the tariffs structure gets more complex as the environment constraints and awareness grow. Residential clients will increasingly demand smarter home automation solutions to keep costs, carbon footprint, and comfort aligned. I see a big global trend of building automation business development aimed at saving money, saving energy, being environmentally friendly, saving time, enhancing security and safety, and keeping comfort.

A few years ago home automation was too expensive and a luxury for few. There are already market platforms that are affordable for the large majority of people today, but with smart grid implementation, and also with smart technology development, they will become a standard very soon.

HE: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

CB: Smart grids are an unavoidable future. The digital society exists and it’s growing very fast—that is something nobody can stop. Because of that, new energy service requirements are getting tighter and tighter for utilities. Their clients are already demanding services not achievable with the old technology, and for that they will have to change. This will open a great opportunity for home energy service developers.

This blog originally appeared on HomeEnergy.org.

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