BOULDER, Colo., Nov. 11 (UPI) -- Global moves toward saving on electricity consumption costs mean an increase in universal adoption of smart grid automation may lead to spending of more than $46 billion worldwide.
Smart grid automation is seen by both industry providers and corporate consumers as an intelligent use of available electricity without too much waste and certainly with a better monitoring of both usage and costs.
By 2015 more than $46 billion will have been spent on transition toward the advanced technology of smart grid distribution, said Pike Research, a consulting firm that provides in-depth analysis of global clean technology markets.
"As the smart grid has evolved, most of the media and public focus has been on consumer-facing products and technologies, such as smart meters, automated metering, and home energy management systems," Pike Research said in a new study released Thursday.
While those areas will continue to be important, utilities are placing increased emphasis on adding greater intelligence and control capabilities to their distribution infrastructure, it said.
From 2010 to 2015, worldwide utility investment in distribution automation will total $46 billion, with a robust growth in spending over the next few years.
"Distribution automation is emerging as the next hot topic in the smart grid industry," said Pike Research senior analyst Bob Gohn. "For utilities, DA deployments can yield significant cost savings through measurable improvements in operational efficiency, reliability, service quality, and energy conservation -- all of which can contribute to customer satisfaction. In many cases, we expect that DA will yield stronger return on investment than smart meters or other high-profile smart grid initiatives."
Gohn said the largest category for DA spending will be distribution switchgear, which includes upgraded distribution transformers, reclosers, sectionalizers, disconnect switches and fused cutout switches.
Pike Research said that switchgear will represent 53 percent of distribution automation spending during the 2010-15 forecast period. Other key DA categories will include Volt/VAR optimization; fault detection, isolation and recovery and feeder protection and control.
Pike Research's report forecast the size and growth of the worldwide distribution automation market by region and technology segment through 2015. In an analysis of market factors and technology issues that affect the DA market's growth, the report addressed the key applications producing benefits and value for utility customers.
Despite growing enthusiasm for smart grid technologies, adoption of the new hardware and software received early warnings from security experts, who fear exposure to terrorism that could disable entire segments of countries adopting smart grid systems.
Security experts cited by www.itbusinessedge.com in a 2009 report cautioned against widespread deployment of smart grid technology, arguing a massive blackout could occur if a hacker broke into the system.
The experts said the automated meters could be hacked by someone with $500 worth of equipment and training in electronics and software engineering. The attacker could potentially take control of millions of meters and shut them off simultaneously or disrupt the load balance and cause a blackout.
William Sanders, principal investigator for the National Science Foundation Cyber Trust Center on Trustworthy Cyber Infrastructure for the Power Grid, countered: "I don't think the sky is falling. I don't think we should stop deployment until we have it all worked out. But we have to be vigilant and address security issues in the smart grid early on."
A BusinessWeek report said it would be possible to build security into the smart grid systems from the ground up.
Pike Research specializes in smart energy, clean transportation, clean industry and building efficiency sectors and has headquarters in Boulder, Colo.