Sunday, July 15, 2012

Oak Park, Illinois, Looking at Smart Grid Technology

Interview with K.C. Poulos conducted by Cassandra West

Oak Park officials in early June signed a letter of intent with the Korea Smart Grid Institute (KSGI), one more step toward testing smart-grid technologies through the village. KSGI is seeking to invest in international areas to test and study new technologies. Oak Park is one of two cities in the U.S. selected by the Institute to participate in such an initiative. GCC spoke with K.C. Poulos, Sustainability Manager for the Village of Oak Park, about the signing and what it means.

What does this letter of intent do?
The letter of intent is a renewal of one signed in 2010 between the Korea Smart Grid Institute, the Village of Oak Park and the Illinois Smart Communities Coalition. These three entities are working together to bring projects to Oak Pak that would demonstrate how a smart grid works, both from inside the home, to the lines, and to the back-office technology that ComEd uses. It’s really about facilitating demonstration projects. That’s what Oak Park’s role is. The Korea Smart Grid Institute is looking at two sites in U.S. to demonstrate its technology. One is in Stony Brook, Long Island [N.Y], and one is here in Oak park. They’re interested in showing their technology in a village setting and they’ve really taken to Oak Park and they’re excited about putting a couple of demonstrations here.

Can you clarify what you mean by a demonstration?
KSGI is looking at residential and commercial demonstrations in which they would put solar panels on single-family homes, provide a battery storage system and then connect the battery to the grid. The homeowners would collect solar power during the day and store energy in a battery, then in the evening, the house would use that battery for any energy uses that it needs. So, it’s off the grid at night.

How does a smart grid help facilitate sustainability? (excerpt from Wikepedia.en)
The improved flexibility of the smart grid permits greater penetration of highly variable renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power, even without the addition of energy storage. Current network infrastructure is not built to allow for many distributed feed-in points, and typically even if some feed-in is allowed at the local (distribution) level, the transmission-level infrastructure cannot accommodate it. Rapid fluctuations in distributed generation, such as due to cloudy or gusty weather, present significant challenges to power engineers who need to ensure stable power levels through varying the output of the more controllable generators such as gas turbines and hydroelectric generators. Smart grid technology is a necessary condition for very large amounts of renewable electricity on the grid for this reason.

How do the smart meters in Oak Park play into this project?
The only way a house becomes a smart house is if it can provide its usage information back to ComEd and also receives real-time usage information from ComEd, so there’s a two-way communication system that’s built into the meters.

Do we really have a smart grid or just a step toward having a smart grid?
We’re just in the beginning staging of deploying a smart grid. The smart meters are in place in Oak Park. One of the next steps is to upgrade the transformers and the substations that are in our area so they have the solid-state communications devices and can read the data points that are out there. …There’s a lot of self-healing and redundancy that’s built into a smart system so that it takes a problem and reroutes energy to customers through another line without having to send a truck out.

How might this project with the Korea group involve conserving energy or reducing use?
By providing a renewal energy source on a person’s home, they’re able to supplement their usage with renewal energy right there at the house, so they’re pulling less energy from the grid and that saves money on their bill.

What’s the best way for residents to learn more about Oak Park’s sustainablity initiatives?
They can visit our website,

Provided by Lonnie Morris, Chair, Sierra Club River Prairie Group
Written by SStovall and published at


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