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Computer-Aided Lean Management

by Roger Anderson, Albert Boulanger, John Johnson, and Arthur Kressner
About the authors

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October 5th, 2009
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by Roger Anderson, Columbia University

As utilities and suppliers await the funding of the modernization of the electric system in the United States that goes by the name “Smart Grid”, there seem to be two schools of thought circulating across the country. There are those looking forward to the change and those dreading the consequences of the change.  Both camps have valid worries.  Those looking forward to the change that the Smart Grid will make to our economic and personal welbeing, are anticipating a new paradigm of cheaper, more reliable power delivery from cleaner and greener sources.  Those fearing the changes worry about more rather than fewer blackouts, costs that will increase with time, and even an electric grid made more vulnerable to terrorist attack.  As the Smart Grid becomes more like the Internet, they worry that worms, viruses, and as yet unnamed cyber attacks will bring down the grid.  More below the fold.

Both of these futures are possible, unfortunately, as the U.S. begins to reinvigorate the “greatest machine ever built by humans.” The course will be decided by how well we implement the changes, not by how high tech they are.  As our book on “Computer-Aided Lean Management for the Energy Industry” goes to great lengths to point out, a Lean implementation is only as successful as its methodologies.  If the U.S. government just throws the stimulus money into the industry without an Integrated Master Plan and Schedule executed with critical paths and performance metrics to judge progress and redirect failing efforts into more successful paths, then we can expect a mess at the best and a catastrophe at the worst. If instead, as in any Lean Implementation, there is an overall program plan coming out of DOE beginning in November, expect a huge success.  This is how to tell.  Look at the overall grants of funding across the country and see if you can see any logic to the decisions.  An example of  logic that is not Lean was the Department of Homeland Security’s funding after 9/11.  DHS scattered money all across the U.S. except in the main terrorism targets of New York City, Washington D.C. and the country’s other largest cities.  A good Lean implementation can be found from the Department of Defense through DARPA’s creation of the Internet, which steadily proceeded from a military-only net, to a university-mostly net, to an everybody-everywhere net.  That progression was foreseen, planned, and scrupulously executed over many, many years.

As we begin the building of the Smart Grid, look for the following Lean traits:  1. Cyber-security, built not only on standards gathered together by committees of experts via the Department of Commerce, but founded also on military technologies already proved invulnerable against real attacks by foreign countries and terrorists and tested daily by our own National Security Agency.  If present, ask if it is being applied uniformly across the country; 2. Interoperability, so that any hardware or software that is value-adding to performance can be plugged into the Smart Grid and played by all. Think of the thousands of apps for the Apple iPhone as opposed to the few tens that work with Microsoft’s Zune; and  3. Open Software, that allows any application adding value to the Smart Grid to communicate with valuable apps from other manufacturers and the vast volume of new data the will be exchanged both ways between utilities and customers. Look for what is called in the computer industry a “Middleware” layer that takes care of the communications, data transfer, visualization and implementation of actions between systems from any manufacturer to any other.

We see three different locations that the (hopefully) Lean government  implementation plan will have to cover with new Smart Grid technologies and techniques: 1. what we call the “vertical” city of skyscrapers and dense urban living; 2. the “horizontal” city of vast populations spread over large urban areas but with few high rise buildings; and 3. the suburbs where economies in the home and with Electric Vehicle recharging will occur.

With Peak Oil fast approaching, this coming transition from the present hydrocarbon economy to the future electric economy powered by the Smart Grid must succeed if the world is to maintain its progress towards the admirable goals of life (read food, water and shelter), liberty (read whatever each considers liberty to be), and that wonderful expression that requires no further definition in any language, the pursuit of happiness.  Wish us all Luck.

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4 Responses to “Implementing the Lean Smart Grid”

  1. Nathan Edmonson Says:

    Peak oil has been fast approaching at least since 1920, and likely from before, as even a casual history of the petroleum industry reveals. With the aid of new discoveries, and especially with the aid of advancing technology, the industry has repeatedly refuted the peak oil concept. The most compelling argument in favor of peak oil now seems to rest on the absolute size of world demand, but there is nothing new about this element of the argument; there was much appeal to absolute size by peak oil believers in the 1970s, for example. To worry about peak oil now seems alarmist in light of history.

    Recognition of future possibilities for oil production might take inspiration from recent history of natural gas production. Thanks to technological advance which has resulted in substantial recent growth is gas production, North American (especially U.S.) gas production is nowseen as rising beyond the point of U.S. self-sufficiency to the point of the U.S. becoming a net has exporter.

    Making the power grid more efficient is certainly an anticipated application of technology. Why not look closely at technological possibilities affecting oil production?

  2. Roger Anderson Says:

    Nathan, As you can see from my Scientific American article of 1998 (Anderson, R.N., Oil Production in the 21st Century, Scientific American, 278, p. 86-91, 1998.), I used to agree with you. However, we have lost several generations of skilled scientists and engineers from the oil industry since then, and even the big ultra-deepwater discoveries of 2009 will not allow us to increase much beyond the current 85 million barrels a day of global demand (http://www.aspo-usa.com/archives/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=350&Itemid=91 ). Perhaps a compromise would be to call it plateau oil rather than peak oil?

    That trend, combined with Global Climate Change, is driving us to the electric economy, and in the long run, that will preserve the precious oil for the more important uses of hydrocarbons such as plastics, roads, and fertilizers. All said, there surely will be a need for all the oil, gas, and electricity we can find, produce and generate as China and India modernize their economies. My two cents worth, and thanks for your comment. Roger

  3. Firecrew77.Com Says:

    This is a topic which is close to my heart… Cheers!
    Exactly where are your contact details though?

  4. Roger Anderson Says:

    My contact info:

    Dr. Roger N. Anderson
    Senior Research Scientist
    Center for Computational Learning Systems
    Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science
    Columbia University
    475 Riverside Drive, Suite 850
    New York, NY 10115

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