Phil Watts Presenting 586

Night with a Futurist: Future of the Smart Grid

Monday’s Night with a Futurist saw Phil Watts discussing the Future of the Smart Grid, and more generally the future of power generation, use, and storage. Watts noted how little the power grid has changed relative to other technology in the 100+ years since its initial creation. While Alexander Graham Bell would be entirely lost looking at today’s cellular phones, Watts posited that Thomas Edison “could still work” given the lack of evolution in power transmission.


Watts gave several reasons for the slow evolution in power industry infrastructure. First, acceptance of renewable power sources has been slow in coming. Second, changes to transmission and generation are slowed by a “not in my backyard” attitude concerning large equipment, from transmission lines to wind turbines. Finally, controlling user usage has proved a challenge as many seem unwilling to make changes – even ones that make financial sense. Watts provided the example of switching to fluorescent light bulbs: He made the change in his own home for $37 and saw a payback period of less than two months, yet he was unable to convince many friends to convert.

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With the rationale established for the historical glacial pace of energy technology, Watts went on to discuss his perspectives on the expected future evolution of power. In the big picture, Watts believes that “wireless transmission of energy” is the ideal endgame, with technologies currently under development and potentially available by 2030. Other trends and developments Watts sees potential for include: more use of distributed power generation, the adoption of combined heat and power devices, pumping water to higher elevations for energy storage, the adoption of LED lighting, and the availability of DC power appliances.

After his presentation, Watts was joined on stage by three other panelists for a discussion moderated by Mike Cote of ColoradoBiz Magazine. The panelists were:

  • Tom Franklin, Intellectual Property Attorney with the firm of Townsend & Townsend & Crew
  • Ronal Larson, Former Professor at Georgia Tech and former Principal Scientist at SERI (now NREL)
  • Mike Miller, Global Energy Manager for Johns Manville and utility industry veteran

Smart Grid Panel 489

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