Smart Grids – Heralding a smart future

Smart Grids are “happening” technology. Smart grids are coming. In fact smart grids are coming right into our homes. So what is Smart Grid all about?

About 2 decades ago the electricity grid of the world had 3 main elements to it namely energy generation, energy transmission and energy distribution to the consumer. According to  The Smart Grid) “The grid,” refers to the electric grid, a network of transmission lines, substations, transformers and more that deliver electricity from the power plant to your home or business. It’s what you plug into when you flip on your light switch or power up your computer. The issue with the traditional energy grid is that there are enormous losses in transmission and grid would be strained during peak usage. Moreover any outage of the energy grid would have a domino effect and could effectively cause a blackout in large areas. Remember the blackout in US in 2003 which was the largest blackout in US history (Biggest blackout in US history).

The Smart Grid tries to address all these problems of traditional energy grid. The Smart Grid has millions of sensors along the grid which measure and monitor the grid continuously and are equipped with 2 way communication. The “smart” grid will be equipped with controls, sensors, automatic meters and computers that communicate and control the grid. The smart meters and sensor constantly transmit data back to a central command center.  The Smart Grid can quickly identify outages and isolate that part of the grid preventing a cascading effect to other parts. The Smart Grid can identify potential network problems and re-route the energy through other parts of the energy network. Moreover the smart meters that are installed in every home can intelligently adjust the energy usage to non-peak hours when the cost of the energy is low.

Some of the key advantages of smart grids

–          Better resiliency to failures and quicker recovery times
–          Automatic re-routing of energy transmission in case of network failures
–          Faster response to outages with the ability to isolate the faults
–          Better integration with renewable energy like wind, solar energy
–          Reduced losses and more efficiency built into the grid.

Some of the key aspects of the Smart Grid are

Smart Home: As mentioned above the Smart Grid will extend to your home making it a “Smart Home”. Smart Homes will be equipped with smart meters instead of the traditional meters. These meters will be equipped with 2 way communication with your energy utility. All the appliances in your home will be networked into a “Energy Management System” the EMS. Through the EMS you will be able to monitor your energy usage and ensure that save money by utilizing your appliances during off peak hours. Smart Appliances will be able to communicate with the energy utility and automatically turn off during peak periods and turn on during when the cost of the energy is low. This is also known as “demand response” when consumers change their consumption patterns based on lower cost or other incentives offered by the utility companies. The energy price like the stick ticker fluctuates with the energy cost being highest during peak periods during the day.

Home Power Generation: The homes of the future will have solar panels or wind turbines will generate power and sell the excess power back to the Smart Grid.

Distribution Intelligence: The smart grid with its transformers, switches, substations will be fitted with sensors that will measure and monitor the energy flow through the grid. These sensors will be able to quickly detect faults and isolate the faulty network from the rest of the network. The Smart Grid will have computer software that will provide the grid with the capacity to self-heal in case of outages and provide better resiliency to the network. Besides security systems will play a key role in the Smart Grid.

Grid Operation Centers: The Energy grid consists of transformers, power lines and transmission towers. It is absolutely essential that only as power as needed is generated. Otherwise like water sloshing through water pipes excess power generated can cause oscillations and result in  the grid to become unstable eventually leading to a black out. The Smart Grid will have sensors all along the way which measure and monitor the energy usage and be able to respond quickly to any instability. It will have the power to self-heal.

Plug-in Electric Vehicles (PEVs) : Plug-in Electric Vehicles like Chevy’s Volt, Ford’s Electric Focus, the Nissan’s Leaf and the Tesla’s electric vehicle. The electric vehicle will run entirely on electricity and will be eventually lead to reducing the carbon emissions and a greener future. The PEVs will plug into the grid and will charge during the off-peak periods. The advantage of the PEVs is that the Smart Grid can utilize the energy stored in the PEVs to other parts of the network which need them most. The PEVs can serve as distributed source of stored energy supplying the energy to isolated regions during blackouts.

Smart Grids truly herald a smart future!

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