There’s no question that the US power grid is in need of an overhaul. It’s 20th century infrastructure trying to meet 21st century needs. But how do we move forward? Modernizing the power grid may take decades-which is how long it took to originally build the grid – but how can we begin to see immediate improvements?
Many existing smart grid programs emphasize advanced meters. In fact, the emphasis on advanced meters has been so pronounced that this technology is often considered synonymous with a smart grid. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Although advanced meters are an important component of a smart grid, they are used to gather information rather than take action in response to changes in grid conditions. That’s where intelligent grid-based technologies come into play.
Intelligent grid-based technologies are automation systems installed out on the power grid. They include devices that actually carry and direct the flow of electricity, and use advanced electronics, software and communications to provide an intelligent response to grid conditions. They can take action in real time to restore power following an outage. They can also improve energy efficiency, boost capacity and increase power quality.
Our nation needs a modern grid, but that means we need to put the grid first. We can realize many benefits through the implementation of intelligent grid-based technologies:
- It saves money. Power outages cost the U.S. roughly $80 billion a year, according to a study from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Intelligent grid-based technologies like distribution automation can make a considerable dent in these costs by reducing the scope and duration of outages. Following an outage, grid automation solutions quickly reroute power to restore service to as many people as possible. Advanced meters, by contrast, can tell utilities about a power outage, but they can’t turn the lights back on.
- It means jobs. World-class power grid infrastructure is crucial to attract new businesses and to foster business growth. Businesses consider the costs of outages in determining where to base and grow their operations, so good electric reliability is critical to boost the economic vitality of any community. As noted above, intelligent grid-based technologies like distribution automation can make big improvements in electric reliability. EPB of Chattanooga, Tenn., for instance, has deployed a high level of grid automation with a goal of reducing power outage durations by 40 percent.
- It improves energy efficiency. Many power users are making energy efficiency improvements, like replacing leaky old windows at home or installing efficient lighting at businesses. However, we can also improve the efficiency of the grid. Today, upwards of 8 percent of all electricity is lost on its way to homes and businesses. Intelligent grid-based technologies can reduce these losses, so less electricity needs to be generated to meet demand.
- It reduces energy demand. Intelligent grid-based technologies can further reduce the amount of electricity we need to generate by reducing demand. A grid-based approach called conservation voltage reduction allows utilities to precisely control voltage levels at the end user, so they can run the system at a lower voltage level while still providing good power quality. By running the system at a lower voltage, utilities also effectively reduce power demand. It stands in contrast to demand response programs where consumers and businesses need to alter their electricity consumption in order to lower demand.
- It makes new energy sources practical. The current grid was built to carry electricity in one direction-from centralized generators to loads. However, new energy sources, such as solar panels, will create power flows in new directions. When you consider large-scale use of alternative energy sources, grid-based solutions will allow for automatic grid adjustments to accommodate these sources – which are intermittent by nature (just think of how changes in cloud cover impact solar energy generation). Further, as electric cars grow in popularity and create new demands for electricity, we’ll also need intelligent grid-based technologies like distributed stored energy that can handle spikes in demand. Without them, these new peak demands will strain our existing power grid infrastructure, leading to premature wear and possible power outages.
The benefits are immediate. Intelligent grid-based technologies don’t have to rely on other centralized systems or applications to work. They can start delivering benefits from the moment they’re connected to the grid. The immediacy of these benefits stands in contrast to other smart grid technologies, which often rely on other hardware or software systems before they can deliver new functionality. Intelligent grid-based technologies are also scalable, and can be efficiently deployed in targeted areas or system-wide.
The smart grid won’t be built in a day (or a year), but by prioritizing intelligent grid-based technologies, communities will realize a faster ROI on their smart grid investments. They will give electric utilities the tools they need to better control and manage their grid infrastructure, resulting in better power service for those who rely on it while creating the flexibility they’ll need to handle the energy needs of the future. Communities start benefiting from the systems immediately, which is crucial to build public support for smart grid deployments over the long term.
Mike Edmonds is Vice President-Strategic Solutions, S&C Electric Company Follow them on Twitter at @SandC_US
As S&C’s vice president of Strategic Solutions, Mike Edmonds is responsible for the strategy, direction and execution of S&C’s portfolio of solutions families. Prior to joining S&C in April 2010, Edmonds was vice president & general manager of Siemens USA Energy Automation group, responsible for the real-time solutions business for energy management systems, market systems, substation automation and protection control. Edmonds’ previous roles include vice president & general manager for PTI, whose products and services serve 130 countries in system planning including early adoption and endorsement of the common information model (CIM). Edmonds also has 15 years of experience with large control systems for offshore applications including electric ship, weapon systems, and electrical power system design and build for nuclear and conventional submarines and ships. These systems included deployment of highly automated electrical systems.