The U.S. Department of Energy defines smart grid as “an automated, widely distributed energy delivery network incorporating the benefits of distributed computing and communications to deliver real-time information and enable the near-instantaneous balance of supply and demand. The smart grid brings the philosophies, concepts, and technologies that enabled the Internet to the utility and energy grid.”
Power grids now undertake a one-directional “broadcast" power from the central power generators to users. The smart grid concept entails routing power to users using two-way digital technology that enables the power grid to respond to a wide range of conditions at the users point, facilitating optimal energy usage, resulting in reduced cost and increased reliability and transparency.
The key additions to a smart grid compared to the traditional grid include:
- An intelligent monitoring system including a net metering system to keep track of all electricity flowing in the system
- Superconductive transmission lines to integrate renewable electricity such as solar and wind to the grid and ensure less transmission loss
- Internet protocol based smart grid communication technologies on home devices to maintain live and automatic communication between the utility service provider and the customer
Image Credit: flickr.com/World Economic Forum
The two-way smart grid communication technologies allow control over consumption by both the user and service provider. Smart grids have the potential to gain central control over many remote devices such as the consumer’s washing machines, heaters, factory machinery and others, and automatically turn such appliances on and off during non-peak hours. Peak leveling makes possible optimized power flow, reducing waste and maximizing use of lowest-cost generation resources.
The primary benefit of distributed automation smart grids is considerable all-round savings for all the stakeholders. The benefits result from the following ways:
- Peak leveling enables the load curve to level itself, and this helps transmission companies by improving load efficiency and reducing the spinning reserves electric utilities keep on stand-by.
- Power generation companies save through higher asset utilization made possible by peak leveling. This allows provision of additional services with the same installed capacity, savings from not having to install additional capacity to meet fresh demand, and re-deployment of existing assets to perform new functions such as backup, on-site generation, or other ancillary services.
- Consumers save on energy charges. Smart grid makes possible differential tariffs based on timings, and utility companies could pass on a portion of benefits of peak power savings.
- Peak leveling and differential billing provides consumers with better information about power consumption and provides them with various alternatives and choices.
Democratization of Electricity
Smart grid has the potential to revolutionize the energy industry by creating new energy markets that make it possible for everybody from individual homes to big businesses to sell electricity. The two-way interface of smart grid allows businesses and homes that generate wind and solar energy to release the surplus electricity from such sources to the central gird.
Such distributed automated smart grids trigger tapping into alternative energy sources such as wind and solar energy in a big way. The major impediment in harnessing wind and solar energy at present is the complexity of variable power generation, changing usage patterns, and multiplicity of sources making such forms of distributed energy more costly than centralized power from the grid. Smart grid offer seamless integration of such alternative energy sources through simplified interconnection processes and universal interoperability standards.
The benefits of such democratization are huge, and include:
- Improved reliability, better power quality, reduced costs, and choice for the customer
- Improved use of existing grid assets to reduce grid congestion and bottlenecks
- Less reliance on auxiliary power plants. For instance, the electricity utility could draw power from thousands of solar instillations rather than operate an auxiliary power plant on a hot day with increased usage of air conditioners
- Increased reliance on wind and solar energy sources leading to reduced carbon emissions and less pollution
- Greater resource flexibility, making the grid more robust to withstand accidents or attacks. For instance, a 5 megawatt wind turbine abruptly going down would not matter much, while a sudden shutdown of a 1,000 megawatt coal power plant would translate to a major outrage
- Considerably less wastage. The availability of electricity from multiple locations allow operation of only as much resources as required
A major component of the smart grid curriculum is self-healing. Smart grids preempts or mitigates power outages, low power quality and other service disruptions by using real-time information from embedded sensors and automated controls to anticipate, detect, and respond automatically to system problems and events that occur anywhere in the power generation, distribution, and demand chain.
For instance, the smart grid
- Responds to cloud blocking the sun and reducing the amount of solar power or a very hot day by triggering peak leveling mechanisms or an auxiliary power plant
- Deal with temporary shutdown of a distribution line owing to failure of a transformer by automatically looping energy through an alternate line
The self-healing capability of smart grids could save the estimated $100 billion lost each year due to outages and power quality issues.
Image Credit: flickr.com/Ian Muttoo
Other Advantages of Smart Grid Technology
- The information provided by the smart grid helps determine the life cycle of power generation and transmission equipment, schedule preventive maintenance on time, and determine future requirements.
- The use of robust two-way communications, advanced sensors, and distributed computing technology improves all round efficiency, reliability, and safety of energy transmission and use, and makes possible the introduction of value added services such as fire monitoring and alarms, making phone calls to emergency services and the like through the smart grid.
- Establishment of a smart grid requires modernization of the transmission and distribution grids and improvements in end-use devices and appliances. All these bring forth tremendous commercial and investment opportunities.
- Smart grids bring forth intangible social benefits such as decreased customer discontent, greater personal and economic security, and greater confidence in public governance.
The Smart grid is the answer for the looming energy crisis caused by depletion of fossil fuels, and has the capability to change the society just as internet did. The establishment of Smart grids however requires new investment and commitment by all stakeholders
- Cascio, Jamais. Smart Grids, Grid Computing, and the New World of Energy
- Kannberg, L.D., et al. GridWiseTM: The Benefits of a Transformed Energy System
- LaMonica, Martin. Will anyone pay for the ‘smart’ power grid?
- Motorola Case Study. Smoothing the Rocky Road to Distribution Automation