Why research on smart energy grids?

For some reason it looks like the energy grid of the future is becoming more and more a focal point in my current research. Perhaps because it is truly an "Ultra large-scale System" in the very essence of the words. But it also raises considerable security concerns on all levels: personal security with respect to privacy and business models, corporative security with respect to access to devices, energy provisioning and billing and finally on a national and international level due to border crossing energy transports and things like global nuclear strategies and ecological questions. Peak oil, PV installations and technology, e-mobility all play some role in this huge system.

And it is exactly this system that is supposed to change substantially in the next couple of years. Political agendas, ecological forces and the fact that we have already passed peak oil detection and use all force nations, corporations and finally individual users to think about their (substantial) investments in energy systems and machinery.

This really comes down to very personal decisions and questions: should I install some form of PV system? Use sun energy to heat my water? Buy an electric car? Install a heat pump system? Large water tanks in the cellar?

As the owner of a historic vineyard those questions equate with possibly large investments with unclear ROI and lifetime. But there are even more reasons to do some research on the energy grid: it is also a very distributed system and as such it raises many questions about stability, efectivity and optimal topologies. It allows comparisons with the structure and resilience of the internet. But as soon as one enters into smart grid research some hard facts become visible: Being a computer science person does in now way guarantee a good understanding of the energy network: electric power, its generation, distribution and use seems to be quite different to regular IT networks with respect to mission criticality, realtime characteristics, persons and corporations involved and finally also the topology used. The following sections try to list some major characteristics of the smart grid - as far as my understanding goes at that point.