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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]

- What is a Smart Grid?

The definition of a smart grid was first provided by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. The Act enumerates 10 components, the basic theme of which is that digital processing and two-way communication with the resulting data flow and information management is what makes the grid smart. 

Like the Internet, a smart grid has many components, including controls, computers, automation, and new technologies and devices that work together, but in the case of a smart grid, these technologies will work with the grid to meet the demands of our rapidly changing electricity needs. 


- The Major Components of A Smart Grid

It is important to ensure that a smart grid is a secure smart grid that includes many technologies that improve real-time situational awareness and support renewable energy and system automation to improve reliability, efficiency capabilities, and grid security. Utilities are using many secure communication solutions to support the latest smart grid applications, including advanced metering infrastructure, distribution automation, voltage optimization and substation automation. 

The 10 components encompass all elements of the power system, including loads, distribution, transmission, and generation, and are related to the use of renewable energy, demand-side management, energy storage, peak shaving, and power conditioning. The system is considered intelligent because the communication technology enables self-healing through sensing capabilities with heavy monitoring, as well as various computer controls that, when combined, provide an automatic system for changes in load, generation and equipment Response, whenever the reason for stopping the service.


- The Benefits of an Electric Grid

An electrical grid is an interconnected system that maintains an instantaneous balance between supply and demand (generation and load) while transferring electricity from generation sources to customers. Since it is difficult to store large amounts of electricity, the amount of electricity generated and fed into the system must be carefully matched to the load to keep the system running. 

The level of electricity demand in any one region is so variable that it is more efficient to combine the demands of many sites into an overall regional load. The area electrical load can then be met by controlling and managing the output of a set of generators for optimum performance. In part, the grid was developed to allow generators to provide backup to each other and share the load. The grid also allows generators to be brought closer to resources (e.g. fuel supply, water, available land) and to deliver electricity to different load centers through the transmission and distribution network. 

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


- What Makes a Grid “Smart?”

The transmission grid interconnects power generation facilities with distribution substations. Local distribution grids are designed to supply power to end users and usually have a radial structure. While some components of the grid need to be retrofitted, the focus of current redesign efforts is not the physical structure of the grid; it is the informatics component that should bring the grid to a new level of intelligence. Therefore, the interactive combination of information technology and transmission system creates a smart grid system. 

Digital technologies that allow two-way communication between utilities and their customers, as well as sensing along transmission lines, are making the grid smart. Like the Internet, the smart grid will be made up of controls, computers, automation, and new technologies and devices, but in this case, these technologies will work with the grid to digitally respond to our rapidly changing electricity needs.  

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

- The Smart Grid is Evolving

A smart grid will consist of millions of components and parts - controls, computers, power lines, and new technologies and equipment. It will take some time for all technologies to be perfected, equipment to be installed, and systems to be tested before going live. And it's not going to happen all at once - the smart grid is gradually evolving over the next decade or so. Once mature, the smart grid could bring about the same transformations that the internet has already brought to the way we live, work, play and learn.


- What Does a Smart Grid Do?

Smart grids represent an unprecedented opportunity to bring the energy industry into a new era of reliability, availability and efficiency that will contribute to our economic and environmental health. During the transition, testing, technology improvements, consumer education, standards and regulation development, and information sharing between projects are critical to ensure our vision of the smart grid becomes a reality. Benefits associated with the smart grid include:

  • More efficient power transmission
  • Faster power recovery after power disruption
  • Lower operating and administrative costs for utilities and ultimately lower electricity costs for consumers
  • Reduce peak demand, which will also help lower electricity bills
  • Increased integration of large-scale renewable energy systems
  • Better integration of customer-owned power generation systems, including renewable energy systems
  • Improve security

[More to come ...]

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