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Why Grid Forward? Why now? The view from executive director Bryce Yonker

By Bryce Yonker, executive director and CEO, Grid Forward

The last five years for Smart Grid Northwest have been on an exciting journey of growth, collaboration and progress. Our community has made major strides and big impacts across the Northwest electrical power system. Our members and stakeholders–and our organization, we believe–have played a central role.

So why change the organization’s name to Grid Forward? And why now?

Changes in western grid since founding of Smart Grid Oregon

Well, the word “grid” is still the right one. We are all about the grid: central, edge and all that it is connected to it, the whole energy infrastructure landscape. It’s still a physical “machine” but also increasingly digital, with generation assets as well as sophisticated techniques for managed use. Yes, it still has transmission and distribution elements, but those categories and the planning for them are blurring. It’s still largely centrally controlled but the options for users are expanding. With all this added complexity in our energy systems, the grid remains the backbone and the life blood tying it all together.

Our electric grid is a modern marvel, but the expectations on it are changing dramatically. Utilities and power providers have far more to deal with than just reliability and cost. Today’s (and tomorrow’s) issues are broader. Utilities are working with a diversity of stakeholders to plan for resiliency, electrification, decarbonization, smart cities, high renewables, electrified transportation and more. Today’s and tomorrow’s solutions are becoming increasingly interdisciplinary. We need to all work together to take accelerate grid innovation to meet those diverse needs.

The innovation we all need goes far beyond technology. In many ways, you might say we already have much of required technology: sensors, monitors, analytics, energy storage, solar, demand side assets, management and control platforms, and so on. Dropping the word ‘smart’ symbolizes that we’ve expanded our focus beyond tech–where we started as Smart Grid Oregon almost 10 years ago. Today, moving the “grid forward” involves just as much progress in regulation, business models, market structure and culture as in technology.

Our refined purpose: We provide information, community, and expertise to help leaders create pathways for electric grid modernization via advanced technology, policy progress and business innovation.”

The term “forward” captures the spirit of the industry’s movement and evolution. Our electric grid has made significant progress in implementing a variety of advanced solutions and is building momentum for integrating new classes of assets and new ways of managing the system to provide value for all who rely on it. So “Grid Forward” becomes a call to action for stakeholders who are committed to using the best solutions and implementing modern practices that the market currently offers, and who are dedicated to continually pushing ahead as the industry evolves.

Since our beginning in 2010, Smart Grid Northwest has established a model for bringing together the various disciplines needed to tackle the multiple dimensions related to progressing modernization on the electrical grid. We are committed to building on that model while focusing largely on the educational role we play. As we look to establish a platform for wider stakeholder engagement, we will at the same time be diving deeper to impact our core members and their markets and service areas.

Today, moving the “grid forward” involves just as much progress in regulation, business models, market structure and culture as in technology.”

As a result, Grid Forward will be connecting all the stakeholders with the goal to promote and accelerate grid innovation by:

  • Encouraging investments into new technologies and models for advanced and optimal grid management techniques
  • Accelerating transitions from demonstrations to larger scale deployment
  • Defining regulatory and business model pathways to encourage best-in class solutions for managing grid systems
  • Supporting cultural change to help energy providers and their partners navigate evolving energy ecosystems

On June 21, 2019, Grid Forward moves ahead as an industry association for utilities, technology providers, policymakers and other organizations dedicated to smarter pathways for managing regional energy systems. I want to thank the board of directors, our expert advisory board, and all of our active membership for making this journey together, and for now committing to step up to a higher level of commitment and collaboration to face the opportunities and challenges of tomorrow’s energy systems. We look forward to working with you all to help move the ‘grid forward.’

— Bryce


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