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Smart Grid Technology and Applications

[This Beijing dispatch center controls most of China’s ultrahigh-voltage lines and monitors renewable energy use - State Grid Corp. of China]

- The Electric Grid

The electric grid, an interconnected system, maintains an instantaneous balance between supply and demand (generation and load) while moving electricity from generation source to customer. Because large amounts of electricity are difficult to store, the amount generated and fed into the system must be carefully matched to the load to keep the system operating.

  • Centralized generation can be located far from areas of high population and feeds large amounts of electricity into the transmission lines.
  • Transmission lines carry high voltage electricity from centralized power plants to a substation. 
  • The electricity is converted to lower voltage at the substation. 
  • Distribution lines carry lower voltage electricity to the load. 
  • Distributed generation is any source of electricity that is at or near the point of load. It can be connected to the utility’s distribution lines, or just provide power to a stand-alone load.

 - The Benefits of an Electric Grid

The electric grid, an interconnected system, maintains an instantaneous balance between supply and demand (generation and load) while moving electricity from generation source to customer. Because large amounts of electricity are difficult to store, the amount generated and fed into the system must be carefully matched to the load to keep the system operating. 

The level of demand for electricity in any one area is so variable that it is more efficient to combine demand from many sites into an overall regional load. This regional electric load is then met by the output of a fleet of generators that can be controlled and managed for optimal performance. In part, the grid was developed to allow generators to provide backup to each other and share load. The grid also allows generators to be located closer to resources (e.g., fuel supply, water, available land) and ship electricity over the transmission and distribution network to different load centers. 

Utility-scale solar and wind power plants are conceptually similar to conventional generators— they generate electricity where the necessary resources are located, typically in remote areas where the fuel (sunlight or wind) is most abundant. These attributes—consolidating variable individual loads into more predictable regional loads, siting plants near their resource base, and extensive transmission lines—help the grid provide electric power with good reliability and low cost. 

- What is 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. Our current electric grid was built in the 1890s and improved upon as technology advanced through each decade. Today, it consists of more than 9,200 electric generating units with more than 1 million megawatts of generating capacity connected to more than 300,000 miles of transmission lines. Although the electric grid is considered an engineering marvel, we are stretching its patchwork nature to its capacity. To move forward, we need a new kind of electric grid, one that is built from the bottom up to handle the groundswell of digital and computerized equipment and technology dependent on it - and one that can automate and manage the increasing complexity and needs of electricity in the 21st Century. " -- []

"A definition of a smart grid was first provided by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.  The act enumerated 10 components with the underlying theme that digital processing and two-way communication with the resultingdata flow and information management are what make the grid smart.  The 10 components incorporate all elements of a power system including load, distribution, transmission and generation and are associated with the use of renewables, demand-side management, energy storage, peak energy shaving, and power conditioning. The system is considered smart because of the communication technologies that enable self-healing through sensing capability with heavy monitoring, and a variety of computer controls that when combined provide automatic system responses for changes in load, generation and equipment that is out of service for whatever reason." -- [T&D World]


- What Makes a Grid “Smart?”

The transmission grid interconnects power generating facilities with distribution sub-stations. The local distribution grid is designed to supply power to end users and usually has a radial structure. While some of the components of the grid are subject to renovation, it is not the physical structure of the grid that is the focus of current redesign efforts; it is the informatics component that is supposed to bring the grid to a new level of intelligence. Hence, the interactive combination of information technologies and transmission systems creates the smart grid system.

The digital technology that allows for two-way communication between the utility and its customers, and the sensing along the transmission lines is what makes the grid smart. Like the Internet, the smart grid will consist of controls, computers, automation, and new technologies and equipment working together, but in this case, these technologies will work with the electrical grid to respond digitally to our quickly changing electric demand.

The US Power Transmission Grid_052421A
[The U.S. Power Transmission Grid - FEMA]

- The Smart Grid is Evolving

The smart grid will consist of millions of pieces and parts - controls, computers, power lines, and new technologies and equipment. It will take some time for all the technologies to be perfected, equipment installed, and systems tested before it comes fully on line. And it won’t happen all at once - the smart grid is evolving, piece by piece, over the next decade or so. Once mature, the smart grid will likely bring the same kind of transformation that the Internet has already brought to the way we live, work, play, and learn.


- What does a Smart Grid do?

The Smart Grid represents an unprecedented opportunity to move the energy industry into a new era of reliability, availability, and efficiency that will contribute to our economic and environmental health. During the transition period, it will be critical to carry out testing, technology improvements, consumer education, development of standards and regulations, and information sharing between projects to ensure that the benefits we envision from the Smart Grid become a reality. The benefits associated with the Smart Grid include:

  • More efficient transmission of electricity
  • Quicker restoration of electricity after power disturbances
  • Reduced operations and management costs for utilities, and ultimately lower power costs for consumers
  • Reduced peak demand, which will also help lower electricity rates
  • Increased integration of large-scale renewable energy systems
  • Better integration of customer-owner power generation systems, including renewable energy systems
  • Improved security

[More to come ...]

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