What is Smart Grid? Distributech wants to know.

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The just concluded Consumer Electronics Show was a massive showcase of cool new ways to use electricity. It is unlikely the attendees and exhibitors thought of it that way, though there was a large area devoted to home energy management. More accurately, that would be “cool new ways to use your smart phone, including Home Energy Management”.

Distributech, next week in San Diego, comes on the heels of CES. There will be hulking big things with their software masters that distribute the electricity that powers those CES gadgets. As a nation, we love our gadgets, but we don’t think much about their dependence on the massive infrastructure that is our electric grid…unless you are one of the Distributech faithful (itself a massive show), or perhaps one of the bad guys that seeks to do harm.

This is where the “Smart Grid” begins. In the aggregate, all those game consoles use as much power as all our data centers. Electric vehicles can draw as much power as an average house, and there is that ongoing need to power our businesses, schools and homes. Into this mix comes the desire to use clean energy, usually wind and solar; and both intermittent at best. We also have a national distaste for building new power plants or transmission lines. The Department of Homeland Security says 40% of all cyber-attacks target our power grid.

We must to pay attention to electricity now, and the industry says “Smart Grid” is here to help.

What is “Smart Grid”. Two-way communications? Device access via Internet? How about Big Data and its sidekick, Analytics? Some argue that our current grid is smart, but a bit blind.

The electric grid is a magnet for smart engineers who use sophisticated tools to maintain reliable, safe and affordable power. It is the envy of the world; so important that we passed a law in 1938 to make sure everyone had access. In political terms, access to electricity is necessary for impoverished nations to progress.

Ours is a one-way grid: “they” supply, “we” consume; and that’s a problem. Utilities might not know your power is out unless you call them. Smart devices change that. Utilities maintain significant reserves because, well, stuff happens. Smart grids makes that a more efficient process. Perhaps “we” don’t care about cycles and volts and things. “They” have to. Failure damages equipment or dims lights. It can plunge thousands into darkness. “They” would have an easier time if “we” could provide better information about how we intend to use electricity. Smart Grid can do that.

The IEC defines “Smart Grid” as a marketing term, which is more insightful than it appears. Marketing is how companies communicate, inform and connect. The better they do, the more loyal and engaged we are. Apple is a modern example. Our internet providers use the active information exchange between our smart equipment and their smart equipment to allocate sufficient bandwidth to serve everyone. Marketing has established the relationship that permits this. We accept providers knowing more about us because the result is better and more reliable service. Distributech is a power transmission trade show. But next week, they’re doing something new. For the first time, there will be an entire education series devoted to customers and how to interact.

So what makes the Smart Grid smart? You do.

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  • A smart grid is essentially an intelligent network that is not only able to provide the electricity, but is also capable to manage the distribution of electricity and to manage important aspects, such as the energy available and the energy required. It owns also control mechanisms able of following the electrical flow in the system. What do you think of the smart grid, are really useful?

    • This is a very insightful question. The term “Smart Grid” really is a general framework that anticipated multi-directional electron flows coupled with communications. The potential uses are many. Of course, the intelligence of it comes from people who design, operate and maintain it, so the uses are many. Among them is scalability (microgrids to regional grids); DER management (balancing renewables, for example); data analytics which can support long range planning, emissions and much more; resilience (isolating faults, using feeds from DERs); and market support through mechanisms such as Transactive Energy.

      This is a most exciting time to be part of the industry. Thank you for your question.

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