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Victor Dominguez InterView

I just recently found out about the Smart Grid project via email. I spoke to a few people about Smart Grids and many people didn't know what they were and so its time to enlighten the general public. Smart Grid's provide electric companies with a live information feed of how much power you're using and allows them to estimate how much energy an area needs at peak and down times. It's part of a big effort to make the world a little greener. It also gives you more awareness of how much energy you are using. Do you really know how the electricity works in your house? How much you are paying? How much you could be saving once you learn your usage amounts?

A Smart Grid is a way to reduce cost and increase transparency between you and the electric company. The aim is to save you money and prevent outages at a faster rate than is currently possible. I wanted to learn more about this so I turned to Victor Dominguez at DS2. DS2 is a Spain based company that has been around since 1998 and is the leading technology innovator and a global provider of high speed semiconductor solutions for powerline communications, a technology that converts any installed wire into an intelligent, high quality networking medium. Victor provides insight on what is going to happen with the future of Smart Grid technology and how his company plays a major role in making it a safe and green system.

About Victor:

Victor Dominguez Richards began his career at DS2 working in the development of the physical layer (analogue and digital) and the MAC layer, of the first generation of DS2 45 Mbps PLC technology. In 2000 he was appointed Director of Strategy and Standardization to actively promote a new generation of high quality standards for powerline communications in Europe and worldwide. In 2005 Victor assumed responsibility for the customer support team, moving to Business Development Director in 2006 and to Vice President of Sales and Business Development in 2007. Since November 2009, he is the Senior Vice President of Strategic Marketing and Standards. In addition, he holds several positions in international bodies including a seat on the BoD of ETSI and the chairmanship of ETSI PLT. Victor has a degree in telecommunications from the UPV (Universidad Politécnica de Valencia, Spain) and he is a former engineering lecturer at the same university. In other words, the man knows his stuff!

Q. How did your company advance to the front of powerline communications? What were the major obstacles? What would you say has been your niche?

Powerline communications is an enabling technology and like many other enabling technologies it is generally invisible to the final consumer. DS2's strength has been, and continues to be, our focus on research and development and our knowledge of the powerline medium. When we started out, a number of technical hurdles had to be overcome to ensure robust communication over powerline. The main breakthrough that we brought to the market was to create a cost effective, robust and high quality multi-Mbps technology that opened the door to a variety of new broadband and home networking markets that were not possible for powerline before. Our key strength has been our ability to create advanced, sustainable and successful powerline technology solutions. Our focus is to develop solutions that meet the needs of the end customer. We deliver plug and play solutions that enable the customer to enjoy connectivity using the existing wires available in the home, the office and the neighborhood.

Q. What other major projects is your company working on? Where else are we going to see DS2 in the near future?

We are working on developing silicon compliant to the International Telecommunication Union's (ITU) G.hn standard for next-generation wired networking. This standard is the next big thing for networking over powerline, phoneline or coax since one standard covers all three media. We have successfully demonstrated prototypes that offer results over 3-5 times the real throughput that legacy technologies can produce. DS2's G.hn implementation will be compatible with existing DS2-based systems. From a market perspective we have recently released a new technology for smart metering and we expect this to be present in electricity meters for AMI deployments around the world.

Q. I know DS2 has been working in the US. and in Europe, What other country has DS2 set its sight for?

Our focus is global we have clients in Europe, North America, Latin America and in Asia and we also have customer support activities in all of these regions. Depending on the market segment, retail, IPTV, BPL, EoC or Smart Metering, market penetration may be stronger in one geography or the other.

Q. How does a Smart Grid function say, for example, a tree knocks down my line or lightning hits the transformer across the street? How will it minimize the outage?

Today, when something like this occurs, a lot of time is wasted locating exactly where the problem has occurred. A Smart Grid provides instant visibility of where faults have occurred so that no time is lost in restoring the connection. Smarter electrical distribution and transport networks can react quicker and, to a given extent, automatically to repair the damage caused by catastrophic events in the networks like transformers or line breakdown. But these are not frequent events. What is even better is that the utility will be able to predict more common problems such as faults with distribution elements like insulators and lines, and will able to undertake remedial actions before the breakdown occurs.

Q. From a consumers point of view, what additional new software and hardware are needed to make this work?

By overlaying a communications technology on the electric grid, the network changes from being an electrically connected grid to an information connected network that enables more efficient use of the energy we produce. This can improve billing, reduce interruptions and outages, predict failures, and monitor and control consumption to and within the home. Powerline communications technology is a proven connectivity solution to create home area networks within the home for networked entertainment, gaming, and HD-video and Internet data applications. Robust powerline communications technology specifically designed to perform on the electricity network can also be used to develop Smart Meters and to connect the meter with the distribution network. This means that consumers can manage and monitor their consumption and utilities can also use it to monitor supply and demand.

Utilities may use three out of four different communication technologies to build the Smart Grid. Consumers already use different technologies within their home area network (HAN). An important pre-requisite is to choose technologies that will 'talk' to one another. Interoperability is a must. The technology must be IP-based. TCP/IP provides an easy solution to the problem of managing systems based on incompatible technologies by providing a common communication protocol so that different PHY/MAC technologies can communicate. In an IP-based Smart Grid every Smart Meter or appliance (air conditioners heaters, dish-washers, etc.) and every distributed sensor or plug-in vehicle will have an IP address and will support standard protocols for remote management. By using an IP-based management system, utilities can deploy different PHY/MAC communication systems in different parts of their grid and still control them with a unified management system. IP-based communication networks are easier to manage, easier to extend for new applications and provide more flexibility to utilities and consumers when choosing multiple vendors. IP-based communications networks bring intelligence to the grid.

The Smart Grid will be a heterogeneous, large telecommunications network, which includes distribution automation, Smart Metering, demand-side management, electrical vehicles charging, end-user energy generation, etc. It will also require a number of different networking technologies, wired and wireless, and management systems to (also) be deployed smartly. The good news is that large and complex telecom networks have already been deployed and successfully managed, including mobile networks and broadband access.

Q. How much of a predicted price change is there going to be for the home owner?

Let us consider the smart grid promise for a moment. It is real-time communication with the end-user increases awareness of real-time consumption and contributes to reducing wasteful energy usage, which in turn helps build a greener planet. A smarter network generates less waste, is more reliable, more stable, significantly more efficient and intelligent. In short, a connected network creates a smarter grid. Price changes will depend on how this increased consumer awareness of their energy usage helps them to change their energy consumption habits. By making energy management devices ubiquitous, all consumers will, over time, acquire better performing and manageable systems in the home, which will lead to reduced cost benefits.

The Smart Grid also means better adjusting electricity generation to consumption requirements. This will help to improve efficiency and lower the cost of wasted energy that will reduce the price of electricity for the end user. Also, with Smart Metering, home automation and in-home displays, the end user will be able to adjust his/her consumption profile to the energy pricing profile.

Q. How much information will be shared or available? How invasive is it?

The consumer owns their energy consumption information – just as they do with their health records, for example. Although 'stored' by a hospital, this data is the property of the individual for which they can expect a high level of privacy and protection. Similarly, the utility has the right to access consumers' data for billing, analysis and aggregation, as well as for use in overall statistics that are published but do not have the right to exploit it. Currently regulatory discussions are taking place in most geographies to clarify all related aspects – including billing regulations. The matter of confidentiality and ownership of information differs from one country to another. For instance, an early deployment of smart metering failed in Denmark due to the negative reaction of citizens not wanting their energy consumption information to be communicated over a shared network. On the other hand, the Scandinavian countries are currently frontrunners in deploying Smart Metering and no new regulations have been prepared to protect this information (the legal framework relies on existing laws for protecting personal data that usually already exists in most countries).

Q. Will they give the homeowner the option to avoid giving out all their info?

This is a question for regulation and standardization, but in our view, the utility should not be allowed to sell the specific customer data, with the customer's identity and location provided, it may only sell summary statistical data without identifying information. Thorough identification, authentication, and authorization procedures are required. As I mentioned previously, the consumer owns the data, just as a health record is a consumer's when stored by a hospital, with a right to expect a secured privacy and protection firewall.

Q. Speaking of standards, I'm sure each electric company has its own quirk and want certain things done their way. What rules (electric reliability standards, I think it is called) or features would you like to see system wide? And why?

Utilities will deploy different types of hybrid Smart Grids. The problem that many utilities face is that each communication technology often comes with its own management protocol. If a utility uses three or four different communications technologies for its Smart Grid, it may end up with three or four different management systems that don't talk to each other. The solution to the problem of managing systems based on incompatible technologies: TCP/IP.

The TCP/IP protocol suite has demonstrated that it indeed solves the problem of providing a common communication protocol for disparate PHY/MAC technologies. Today, millions of people connect to the Internet using a large variety of PHY/MAC technologies: Ethernet, Wi-Fi, powerline, DSL, cable-modem, 3G cell phones and many more. Unless Smart Grid technology is based on open TCP/IP standards, the fragmentation of multiple PHY/MAC technologies (and their associated management protocols) will significantly hinder the growth of the Smart Grid industry.

An IP-based Smart Grid means that every Smart Meter, every Smart appliance (air-conditioners, heater, dish-washer, etc), and every distributed sensor will have its own IP address and will support standard IETF protocols for remote management. With an IP-based management system, utilities can deploy completely different PHY/MAC communication system in different parts of their grid, and still control them with a unified management system. There are dozens (if not hundreds) of vendors for IP-based management systems, so utilities that deploy IP networks will not be locked to vendors that provide vertically-integrated solutions. So as a result, if we start by insisting on IP based standards, then the smart grid roll-out will be much easier for everyone.

Q. Do you see a future where certain customers get priority over others at peak times?

Providing real-time data to electricity producers and users increases the opportunity for demand response mechanisms to manage customer consumption of electricity in response to supply conditions. Utilities can, for example, reduce consumption at critical times or use emergency measures to reduce consumption to avoid outages, the so-called 'peak-shaving.'

Q. What measures are going to be used to combat fraud?

Wireline networks are more secure than open wireless networks but even so it is essential that technology providers build in strong security mechanisms to avoid external attacks and fraud. DS2 takes security very seriously, and that's why we have included support for Advanced Encryption Security (AES) in all our latest products. Moreover, by using 256-bit AES encryption, DS2 products provide the strongest encryption available today in any powerline communications product. Additionally, on top of the required low-layer security, the existing suit of higher-layer security protocols for authentication and integrity must be also used.

Q. The user will have to make the changes, but what type of changes will the home owner need to be make for smart grid?

For the home owner the changes are essentially related to increased awareness of how he or she consumes electricity. By making energy management devices ubiquitous, all consumers will, over time, acquire better performing and manageable systems in the home, which will benefit them in reduced costs. Devices in the home should be plug-and-play, and should just work requiring little or no effort from the consumer to install or use.

Therefore the user has a large amount of influence in the deployment of the home automation part of the Smart Grid. This is why most analysts believe that this will be the last part of the smart grid to be implemented. The user will also play a critical role in the success of the replacement of internal combustion vehicles by electrical vehicles.

Q. If smart appliances and electric cars are going to have their own IP addresses, some people might feel that this is another opportunity to be watched by "big brother". What are your views?

This is a question for the law-makers rather than the engineers. As engineers we must ensure that the products on offer are built to meet the best encryption and security standards. Privacy rules regarding access and use of data is something that law makers must deal with.

Q. Are the energy companies and the government accepting this with open arms or showing any resistance?

I would say Government policy is the driving force behind the Smart Grid. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (2009) reserved $4.5bn to stimulate economic recovery. A large slice of this investment is earmarked to improve the national power grid by creating a Smarter Grid. Since the launch of this concept, Smart Grid coverage has reached audiences well beyond utility and technical trade circles. Not since the Northeast Blackout of 2003, when a massive widespread power outage affected an estimated 55 million people in eight U.S. states and in Ontario Canada, has there been so much public interest and coverage of the power grid, its capacity, its deficiencies, its management and the technology used to support it.

Q. Aside from the meter man not having to come into my house to read the meter, what else should the public be looking forward to from this smart grid and security?

By overlaying a communications technology on the electric grid, the network changes from being an electrically connected grid to an information connected network that makes more efficient use of the energy we produce. This can improve billing, reduce interruptions and outages, predict failures, and monitor and control consumption to and within the home. Real-time communication with the end-user increases awareness of real-time consumption and contributes to reducing wasteful consumption and in turn helps build a greener planet. Your bill will be smaller, you will be able to produce part of the energy you need and sell back to grid the amount you don't use, you will be driving electrical cars, charging them anywhere and selling battery charge to the grid when pertinent, you will be able to better control the consumption profile of your home appliances and adjust it to your energy prices, etc…

Q. Google has a power meter tool out for use, do you see that as a help or competition to the Smart Grid project? Who does your company have to compete against?

Our technology provides connection directly to the in-home broadband network. The API announced by Google is complimentary, as use of technology such as that produced by DS2, allows anyone with a broadband connection access to their own consumption data, anywhere. We compete with wireless and other technologies. Our advantage is that we use the existing electricity infrastructure to establish a two-way communication network and add the capability to reach the most remote parts of the grid to achieve reliable and efficient real-time management, monitoring and consumption of electricity. Our technology is, for the time being, the only one that guarantees 100 percent coverage (all electricity meters are connected to the electricity grid), and it includes self-healing mechanisms for the grid, as well as offering the highest level of security and scalability for the next 20 years.

Q. Last question, the most important and unique. What is your favorite sports team?

No surprises here. I am supporter of the Valencia soccer team, and follow Rafael Nadal and Fernando Alonso (don't miss him with Ferrari this year!)

The old way of doing things, is that the electric company will broadcast electricity and the meter man would swing by and find out how much you've used in a certain period of time. While that has worked fine, it has had its down sides. Electrical power can't really be stored and the supply-demand load must be pretty close to even. Any big glitch over or under will fry the generators, or in the worst case scenario a cascading failure like the Blackout of 2003. The Blackout was created due to a power plant going down in OH. Overgrown trees had taken out some lines and a computer system not operating fast enough. The result, over 100 power plants had to shut down and the United States and NE Canada were out of electricity, in some places without power for over a week. The 2003 Blackout affected about 10 Mil. Canadians and 45 Mil. Americans. Now Ladies and Gentleman, we can rebuild it, we have the technology and we have the capability to make a stable and live system, better, stronger and faster than it was before, (200Mbps over a power line). Oh wait, that's the six million dollar man, but you get the picture.

Thank you DS2 and Victor for your time.

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