Smart Grid

A2B-systemThe word “Smart Grid” is rarely used but in the past decade it has picked up some traction. The word “grid” amounts to the networks that carry electricity from the plants where it’s generated to the customers. This includes wires, substations, transformers, switches etc. The word “smart” is used the same way as when describing a phone with computer-like capabilities (i.e. smartphone). A “Smart Grid” means a computerized electric utility grid.

What you may be thinking is “don’t they have that?” the answer is: No. Since the good ‘old days, utility companies send workers out to gather much of the data needed to provide electricity. The workers read meters, look for broken equipment and measure voltage. Smart grid will make possible two-way communication and computer processing, which has been used in other industries for decades. Sensors can calculate data such as power meters, voltage sensors, fault detectors and will provide the utility company with the power to control and adjust millions of devices from a central location.

There are many benefits to the smart grid. These include enhanced cyber-security, handling sources of electricity like wind and solar power and even integrating electric vehicles onto the grid. The smart grid will provide self-healing from power disturbance events, optimize assets and operating efficiency as well as accommodating power quality for today’s needs.

If I have lost you by now, please continue reading!

urlThe old electric grid is really old. The U.S. grid has about 300,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines and 5.2 million miles of local distribution lines. When one cable in a network short-circuits (in other words, burns out), other nearby will automatically pick up the burden. But if the surrounding cables are also overstressed, they too can fail, causing major portions of the network to be knocked out of power.

UnitedStatesPowerGridIn the recent decade, the power grid system in the United States has become increasingly prone to these interruptions. What is not helping is that the average temperatures have been rising and your homes have also gotten bigger, hence the demand and usage of air-conditioners has skyrocketed. Aside from air-conditioners let’s throw in our cellphones, computers, big screen TVs, electric ovens, stoves, microwaves, refrigerators and so on. We the people of the United States of America consume more electrical energy than all the citizens of Europe and Japan.

Because of our lavish lifestyles, we require a new infrastructure that can sustain it. Major components of our current electric grid were designed before World War II. I really like how the energy secretary from way back in the day (2001) Bill Richardson explained our current system by saying “…we’re a major superpower with a third-world electricity grid.”


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