A smart grid is one that has secure real-time monitoring and reaction, which allows the system to constantly modify and tune itself to an optimal state.

It also has anticipation, which enables the system to automatically look for problem areas that could trigger larger problems and disturbances. It has the intelligence to constantly look for potential problems caused by storms, catastrophes, human error or even sabotage. It also enables consumer empowerment, reliably integrates distributed generation and renewables into the system, and allows two way power flow. And it has rapid isolation, which allows the system to isolate parts of the network that are going through failure or about to fail from the rest of the system, enabling a more rapid restoration.

Tangible impact

Currently, outages from all sources cost the U.S. economy somewhere between $80 billion to $188 billion annually. The smart grid reduces the impact of outages by about $49B per year, reduces CO2 emissions by 12-18 percent by 2030 and enables integration of distributed resources and renewables into the grid and to help electrify transportation.

"Currently, outages from all sources cost the U.S. economy somewhere between $80 billion to $188 billion annually."

In addition, it would increase system efficiency by over 4 percent—that's another $20.4 billion a year. With security built in the design as part of a layered defense system architecture, it increases cyber/IT security and overall energy security. Finally, it enables job creation, for every dollar invested; the return is about $2.80 to $6 to the broader economy. And this figure is very conservative.

Necessary changes

It is imperative that we reduce uncertainty for investments in the grid, in innovation and research and development, in modernizing entire systems and encouraging development of capable human capital.

Think systems: be forward thinking; be strategic; know the past; be open to innovation; develop a fresh outlook at what can realistically be achieved. What are the resultant primary, secondary and tertiary consequences?

I quote HL Mencken, “For every complex problem, there's a single solution that is simple, neat and wrong.” Develop capabilities to understand and address such interdependent complex systems. As these systems interact with each other, there are many solutions that can come together under what we call design thinking. It involves care, patience, time and resoluteness not to fail.