Future Grids

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Majority of our existing electric grids are decades old and were built when electricity needs were simple. The ever changing and rising energy demands of the 21st century necessitates modernization in our electric grids.

A smart grid is an intelligent digitized energy network delivering energy in an optimal way from source to consumption. This is achieved by integrating information, telecommunication, and power technologies with the existing electricity system. It introduces a two-way dialogue where electricity and information can be exchanged between a utility and its customers. It’s a developing network of communications, controls, computers, automation and new technologies and tools working together to make the grid more efficient, more reliable, more secure and greener.

A smart grid is an efficient way of managing electricity. The grid is a network of power lines and substations that carry electricity from power plants to homes and businesses. Today, when power lines break or power plants can’t produce enough power, black outs occur and that is a problem. At the same time, today’s grids often rely on a single power source and doesn’t provide detailed information on usage, making it difficult to manage. To address these problems in the past, we simply built more power plants. But now, we can work towards sustainability by using solutions like Distributed Energy Resources (DER). The smart grid enables newer technologies to be integrated such as wind and solar. The power generation can now be distributed across multiple sources, so the system is more stable and efficient.

A Smart Grid means adding sensors and software to the existing grid that would give utilities and consumers, new information and help them understand and react to changes quickly. Let’s say that a tree falls on a power line and 1000 homes lose power. With the current grid, the utility employees often physically reroute power, which takes time. With the smart grid, sensors and software will detect and immediately route the power around the problem, limiting the issue to fewer homes. There’s more. The price of electricity changes throughout the day which we can’t see with our current meters at home. It may be expensive during peak hours and cheap at night. With new smart meters at home, you can set your dishwasher to run when power is cheap. This provides more control of your energy bills and helps prevent black outs at peak hours.

Inside the smart home, a home area network (HAN), connects smart appliances, thermostat and other electric devices to an energy management system. Smart appliances and devices will adjust their run schedules to reduce electricity demand on the grid at critical times and lower consumer’s energy bills. These smart devices can be controlled and scheduled over the web or even a TV. The HAN can prioritise the usage of electricity between devices like the EV charging or other devices. Renewable resources such as wind and solar are a sustainable but also variable by nature and add complexity to normal grid operations. The smart grid provides the data and automation needed to enable solar panels and wind farms to put energy onto the grid and optimise its use.

Electricity is costlier to be delivered at peak times because additional and often less efficient power plants must be run to meet the higher demand. The smart grid would enable smart utilities to manage and moderate electricity usage with the cooperation of their customers, especially during peak demand times. Thus, utilities would be able to reduce their operating costs by deferring electricity usage away from peak hours and having appliances and devices run at other times. Electricity production is more evenly distributed throughout the day. Power being used right now was generated less than a second ago many miles away. At each instance, the amount of electricity generated must equal to the consumption across the entire grid. Smart grid technologies provide detailed information that allows grid operators to see and manage electricity consumption in real time. This greater insight and control reduces outages and lowers the need for peak power. In control rooms across the grid, engineers would be able to more precisely and predictably manage electricity production, reducing the need to fire up costly and secondary power plants.

The distribution system routes power from the utilities to residential and commercial customers through power lines, switches and transformers. Electric utilities typically rely on complex power distribution schemes and manual switching to keep power flowing to the customers. Any break in the system caused by storms, bad weather or sudden changes in electricity demands can lead to outages. The smart grids distribution intelligence counters these energy fluctuations and outages by automatically identifying problems and rerouting and restoring power delivery. Utilities can further use distribution intelligence to predict and manage electricity usage with the cooperation of their customers, leading to lower production costs.

The benefits of a smart grid include improved efficiency and reliability of the electricity supply, integration of more renewable energy into existing network, supporting the development of electric vehicles at scale, new solutions for customers to optimise their electricity consumption and reduction of carbon emissions. Smart grid is not just about improving the existing infrastructure but about realising the full potential of the network. Its promises a low carbon, efficient and clean energy system. We need to deploy smart grids much faster to reap its benefits.