SGW001 The Smart Grid Imperative

Q. Why did you write the book?


Originally it was my attempt to document what I learned as a Smart Grid Program Manager while it was fresh in my mind. When I outlined what I wanted to write, I found some holes in my knowledge which led me to a lot of reading and research and one day I had an epiphany about the factors driving change in the utility world.

Once this insight hit, I was like a kid with a really cool new toy and I could not stop playing with it and exploring the Smart Grid world using it. At that point I decided to turn the insights I had gained into a book.

Q. What does the title The Smart Grid Imperative Mean?


The utility world is in a major transition right now. The five factors I explain in the book have created a perfect storm that is compelling utilities to adopt some or all smart grid technologies. An analysis of the five factors relative to any utility can help it to decide what to implement and when to implement it. This kind of analysis keeps a utility in control of its fate by implementing the right changes in an orderly fashion.

The alternative is to wake up one day and discover that your utility is in crisis because necessary actions were not taken.

Q. What were some of the Ah-ha moments you had while writing the book?


The first was how young electric utilities are. I have been alive for about half of the history of modern electric utilities by which I mean utilities with central plants, transmission and distribution using alternating current.

The second was how incredibly dynamic ( or chaotic) utilities were up until the 1930s when a period of extreme stability emerged. That period of stability lasted for almost 60 years when in the late 80s and 90s a new period of major change began.

The third is how the five factors created the dynamic change and they created the period of stability.

Q. You concentrated on the United States for the purpose of the book. Why?


First because it is the utility world I know best. I have worked with utilities in the US for 37 years. My work outside the U.S. with utilities is more recent.

Second because the pioneers in the utility world were in the U.S. and Europe but it is possible to see the birth and growth of utilities in the U.S. clearly and easily.

Third because the way the five factors play out is very country specific so I did not want to create confusion by referencing too many countries.

It is important to note that the five factors are universal and can be applied to utilities in any country. I do take two chapters in the book to demonstrate how they apply in two other countries.

Q. You talk about things other than electric utilities in connection with “Smart “technologies. Why?


Systems thinking is probably one of the most important intellectual innovations of our time. Seeing how things are connected and how a change in one area has cascading impacts on other areas is something we need more of. For example, the energy used to extract, transport, process and dispose of water is one of the largest electrical loads many utilities face. What this means is that by thinking of water and electricity together can have major benefits for both.

It is also possible to look at things like transportation through the lens of the Smart Grid. If we define the smart grid transition as a change from analog to digital, unconnected to networked and data poor to data rich and then think of transportation along those three dimensions we can see that the problem of congestion on transmission lines and congestion on highways are analogous and the two are amenable to solutions that have things in common.

Q. in the closing chapters of the book you plead with utilities to give some careful thought to Smart Grid projects. Why do you believe this is so important?


The strategic planning process and the capital approval process is rightly the purview of senior executives. If we are talking about a typical construction project or a typical Information technology project, it is not uncommon for executives to select a project portfolio and to turn that portfolio over to the design/build people for execution. If we are talking about a new distribution feeder or a substation, this works great because there are people in place that have done this many times. There are also vendors with a long history with the utility who can supply the materials and labor needed for the project.

A Smart Grid project is fundamentally different. In most cases it is both an IT project and a construction project and it may have a telecommunications project thrown in for good measure. It is likely to cut across the organization and disrupt silos. It is likely to touch the customer in some way and therefore require much more customer engagement. It is likely to demand new skills both for the implementation of the project as well as for O&M thereafter. It is also likely to entail greater risk and more public scrutiny than most utilities are accustomed to.

Bad projects have the seeds of disaster sown before they even get off the ground. I have learned through personal experience and through quiet conversations with many project managers in utilities that there are several important steps that should be taken before a project is launched. These steps are likely to save very large sums of money, reduce project risk and maximize project outcomes. Helping utilities to take these steps is the mission of T.S. McDonald Associates our consultancy.


Q. If people want the book how can they get it?


I have given an exclusive on the book. They have it available as a Kindle E-Book and as a paperback. They have also agreed to allow me to offer the book for free in the Kindle format for one week and one week only. I will post the dates of the free week on the TS website along with links that will take you to Amazon to get the book. So the best way to get the book is to go to

After the free week, it will still be available for free to Amazon Prime members. Also on there will be a link to click on to get Amazon Prime and then get the book as a library book checked out from the Kindle library for free. What you will save on the book will pay for half of your Amazon Prime subscription which also gives you free shipping for a year and free streaming of movies.

If a utility buys several copies of the print version for their Smart Grid team, I will hold a one hour conference call with the team to have a discussion and Q&A session with readers of the book. I can be contacted through the comments box at to set up the conference call or to set up a no cost no obligation discussion of your upcoming Smart Grid projects.

Q. What are you planning for 2013?


I want to help utilities to have successful Smart Grid projects. Any bad project anywhere in the world had adverse consequences for all utilities who want to implement Smart Grid projects. To accomplish this I will publish free podcasts as close to weekly as possible. I will also be conducting training through Smart Grid Master Classes worldwide and special training events at utility conferences. In addition I will be working closely with a handful of utilities to help them to prepare for successful projects or to rescue projects that are having problems. I and our associates will also provide senior executives with audits of projects in flight so they will have independent third party insights into projects.

Q. Can you provide the contact information again?

There are two websites. The first is to get the podcast and show notes plus the occasional blog post on a special topic of interest. The second is which is our business website for the consultancy. Both sites have a “contact us” page that will get a message to us quickly.