April 20, 2012 By Fred Harding
Smart grid technology is an updated high-voltage electrical delivery network that has been recently developed. The “grid” part refers to the network of transformers, sub stations and wiring to homes or businesses. The “smart” part refers to the use of analytical technology tools to perform tasks that at one time were done by sending a guy out with a truck and a ladder to manually inspect or adjust.
Essentially, smart grid technology will allow off-site monitoring for trouble and make it easier to switch to alternate electrical feeds. That can bypass downed power lines, for example, but also allow seamless integration of alternative energy sources like solar and wind.
This technology is deployed placing sensors that supply data back through two-way digital networks to the mother ship.
Through the application of smart grid metering devices, energy consumption patterns and anomalies can be monitored instantaneously, allowing for speedier response to demand. Situations like heat waves, which can cause increased demand, can be handled with greater efficiency. Manufacturers can take advantage of the technology to implement production schedules that require greater power consumption to off-peak times, saving money for themselves as well as potentially reducing demand for new power generating facilities.
Since the existing electrical grid has been in place for some time, it’s natural that utility companies will upgrade to this technology without tremendous prompting. The U.S. government has set up the Federal Smart Grid Task Force to further move the technology down the road, offering economic incentives, a directive furthering standards and interoperability amongst suppliers and deployers, as well as focus on security and robust characteristics for the grid.
Since the current electrical grid is somewhat antiquated, one important byproduct of smart grid is an improvement in quality power delivery to end-users. One way to look at what traditional electrical demands were in a typical residence built 100 years ago is to simply count the number of outlets in any given room, or look at the original service feed entering the structure. Clearly, demand for power has grown by comparing those figures to what is currently deployed in similar sized facilities.
Another aspect of smart grid to consider is energy security. The two-way communication protocol will allow a system to self heal more rapidly in the event of a physical disruption, as well as rebuff attempts at cyber attacks.
Since the technology platform is being established through consultation with multiple constituencies, uniform standards will exist so that all parties can interoperate satisfactorily. Equipment that is currently in place will not need to be replaced immediately, ensuring a more responsible transition from old to new.
Ultimately, the goals for smart grid include improving the efficiency of power distribution networks, reducing costs, improving quality of service, enhancing grid security, and allowing easy integration of known and yet to be developed alternative energy sources and storage methodologies into the grid.
The implications for commercial integration are providing a higher level of information about consumption patterns and a higher quality product being delivered to facilities.