Since its conception in the 1870’s, the current mode of transmission and distribution of electricity hasn’t seen many updates. While a considerable amount of time and effort have been put into generation, the output of power distribution has presented challenges for the electric industry.
But as time marches on, thankfully so does technology. Today’s utilities are no longer bound by hydro and fossil fuels as a new age of renewable energy is entering the marketplace. Solar and wind have grown up and become a necessary add to a power producer’s resources. The strides made to create more effective generation are finally beginning to spread back to wires and poles. Smart Grids are the future of electric transmission and distribution efficiency – but what are they and how do we gear up for the demands of tomorrow?
The Brains Behind the Grid
Boiled down, a Smart Grid is a modernization of the power generation and distribution infrastructure. It aims to automate and manage electricity needs for the next century and beyond by supporting and integrating renewables, empowering customers with real-time information about their energy consumption, and helping utility companies reduce outages and restore power faster. Let’s break these down and look at each component.
- Adoption of Renewables
A Smart Grid promotes universal access to low-carbon power generation sources. Whether it’s wind, solar, more hydro or electric vehicles, a Smart Grid takes these sustainable resources and broadens their current use in “supply and demand” grid principals by supporting a decentralized production of power. They provide demand flexibility, new business models with high ROI, and improved system control for consumer engagement. Nature doesn’t ask much in the way of compensation and with the current advancements made in wind and solar, a utility’s Smart Grid dollars can stretch further and further, benefiting costumers by keeping rates low.
- Assisting in the Reduction/Fast Repair of Outages
Outage reduction and restoration comes in two flavors – Smart Generation, and Smart Distribution. Based on feedback data sampled from multiple points in the grid, Smart Generation “learns” how power generation resources behave and then optimizes itself to automatically maintain voltage and power factors. Smart Substations are capable of monitoring and controlling the electricity and aid in this process. Smart Distribution includes automated monitoring as well. It’s a self-optimizing and self-balancing system that includes long distance transmission by super conducting cables. When the two flavors combine, the mix can efficiently control the ebb and flow of electricity and instantly know when a community, neighborhood, business or customer home may need less or more power – and when the power is out or compromised in some way. This can trigger an automated callout and repair crew dispatch inside a resource management solution like ARCOS Mobile Workbench, Crew Manager or Callout, leading to nominal restoration times.
- Empowering the Customer
Smart power meters allow a customer to know how much power they are using and provides direct two-way communication to the consumer’s power provider. Besides increased data collection to automate and keep billing more accurate, smart meters are often the first detectors of an outage and can start the repair crew dispatch process. Intelligent appliances also come in to play, as they can decide themselves when to consume power based on self-obtained smart grid data, user set preferences or both. Once fully implemented, the Smart Grid could save the average family household $600 a year and show how they could reduce their own energy consumption by 5-10%.
As the demands of our time align with current and upcoming Smart Grid technology, it really is a whole new world. While taking these next steps, automating your everyday operations across the board, including operations, can make a huge difference.