Smart Grid

Making sense of the California power outage

Much of the world’s cradle of innovation, the San Francisco Bay Area, went dark for a week in October 2019.

As strong, dry winds swept through central California and created dangerous wildfire conditions, utilities proactively shut down the grid to minimize wildfire risk. That left hundreds of thousands of customers without power for hours, if not days.

As climate change accelerates extreme weather events, infrastructure ages, and rising populations demand more energy, the big question both utilities and their customers must face is this: How do we keep energy flowing reliably, safely, and sustainably?

To answer this question, it helps to consider what’s changed, and what hasn’t, since 1977, the year I was born.

Telecommunications technology is nearly unrecognizable and, more broadly, information technology has experienced breakthroughs in every field. But electrical infrastructure? Even Thomas Edison would recognize it.

Now’s the time to work together to transform the way we produce, transmit, and consume electricity. While there are a few magical, pie-in-the-sky answers, I want to share two pragmatic ways we can start.

Two approaches: Smart grid solutions and microgrids

The first step: Harness IoT connectivity to monitor critical infrastructure assets like the smart grid.

To do this, we can consider the spiritual insight, “everything is connected,” as a strategic objective. The smart grid is already home to billions of smart devices. But just because we’ve deployed these devices doesn’t mean we’re getting the most out of them.

Meters, relays, and sensors need to be connected to sophisticated analytics and management tools. With these smart grid solutions, you can do more than pinpoint outages. You can automate fault detection, streamline proactive maintenance, and thus enhance performance and reliability. The video below shows how smart grid solutions bolster resilience during extreme weather.

The second step is to promote decentralized alternatives such as microgrid technology. Microgrids work seamlessly alongside the grid to provide redundant power to critical infrastructure like hospitals and data centers. They also encourage renewable energy integration. With the rise of energy-as-a-service financing models, more organizations are embracing microgrids because of lower upfront costs. Fortunately, strategies exist for businesses and organizations to handle this shift toward two-way power flows.

I’ve seen the success of microgrid technology at critical sites around the world. For example, the city of Fairfield, Connecticut, took a proactive approach to energy resiliency after experiencing catastrophic power outages during Superstorm Sandy in 2012. With the installation of two microgrids, Fairfield’s police and fire stations, emergency communications center, and other critical services are protected, powered, and running, even in the event of a future natural disaster or outage.

Building new infrastructure and improving on current systems is challenging, especially when utilities are expected to make these changes without downtime and amidst an ever-increasing demand for energy. Utilizing IoT and decentralized power minimizes these hurdles.

Envisioning the future of energy in New York City

Despite New York’s major power outages in the summer of 2019, the city is leading the charge toward IoT connectivity, microgrids, and modernized infrastructure.

John F. Kennedy Airport is part of the vanguard of this transformation. It’s transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy, with help from AlphaStruxure, our new partnership with the Carlyle Group. Our Chief Innovation Officer, Emmanuel Lagarrigue, discusses the JFK project in this video

Future-readiness is the main objective of the project. To ensure clean, resilient, and reliable power for Terminal One, the airport will install multiple microgrids with on-site solar generation. An IoT-connected system will harness both utility power and the on-site distributed power using advanced software controls and electrical distribution hardware. With these systems in place, New Yorkers and travelers alike will benefit from greater reliability and resiliency.

Building a grid fit for our children’s children

We at Schneider orient our business around future generations. It’s part of our commitment to go carbon neutral across our extended enterprise by 2025. It’s baked into the way we’re transforming energy generation, transmission, and consumption. And it’s a part of our goal of creating a resilient, 21st century-ready grid.

For a deeper dive into our strategies for digitizing, decarbonizing, and decentralizing the grid, download The Digital Grid: Unleashed.

I also invite you to take a seat at the table as we continue this conversation. How are you addressing the challenges of improving infrastructure? What technologies are you eager to explore? Share your experience, hurdles, and hopes in a comment below.

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