Alternative Energy

Published on March 28th, 2009 | by Guest Contributor


Understanding the “Smart Grid”

With all of the talk about renewable energy becoming “mainstream” as opposed to “alternative” over the course of the Obama years, the United States is rapidly growing its smart grid strategy and infrastructure to efficiently deliver electricity. Though a major cause for excitement among greenies for some time, many consumers do not yet understand either the terminology or the technology behind this endeavor.

What is a Smart Grid?

A smart grid is an electricity grid that uses digital technology to deliver electricity from suppliers to consumers. This process helps to save energy, reduce costs and increase reliability. The U.S. government is extremely focused on building smart grid technology in order to encourage energy independence and address global warming.

courtesy of the U.S. Department of EnergySmart Grid

Smart Grid

Here is how the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) defines smart grid:

“The electric grid delivers electricity from points of generation to consumers, and the electricity delivery network functions via two primary systems: the transmission system and the distribution system. The transmission system delivers electricity from power plants to distribution substations, while the distribution system delivers electricity from distribution substations to consumers. The grid also encompasses myriads of local area networks that use distributed energy resources to serve local loads and/or to meet specific application requirements for remote power, village or district power, premium power, and critical loads protection.”

Building a smart grid is expected to have many benefits, ranging from a huge slash in carbon emissions to providing consumers an opportunity to put electricity back into the grid and receive compensation for their power-generation efforts.

Smart Grid Technology Research & Development

Developing a smart grid for the U.S. is a complicated task that combines policy, planning, and implementation. On one hand, the grid needs to be able to connect various devices yet operate smoothly.  On the other hand, because of growing environmental concerns, the grid needs to accommodate power generation from renewable sources and incorporate energy-efficiency techniques.

Our current grid was built over 50 years ago; to prevent blackouts and ensure electricity for a growing America, it needs to be updated. Because this will essentially require an overhaul of each state’s utility infrastructure, building a smart grid has implications for the architectural and technological framework for energy distribution.

The DOE’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability has invested significant resources in research and development of technology which fall under four key areas that will directly contribute to achieving the performance features of a smart grid:

  1. Architecture & Communication Standards: Architectural framework and components to enable interoperability of all components and systems in the nation’s power grid including existing legacy systems
  2. Monitoring & Load Management Technologies: Fault detection, localization, prediction and power quality monitoring with integration of communication, analysis, and control techniques; Monitoring and control of industrial/commercial/residential loads for demand-side management
  3. Advanced Components & Operating Concepts: Interconnection technologies, substation and equipment advancements, advanced system operating concepts (intentional islanding, micro-grids, etc.)
  4. Modeling & Simulation: Planning and operational support for contingencies and disturbance events, including integration with disparate databases, reconfiguration, restoration, and optimization of grid performance.

Which are the leading Smart Grid states?

Now that over $4 billion in stimulus money is available for Smart Grid improvements and innovations, many states are taking strides to develop their smart grid technology. Some states have made more improvement than others.

California appears to top the list when it comes to smart grid technology. Policy makers here are deeply committed to the cause of renewable energy and have supported the state’s three big utilities—SCE, SDGE, and PG&E—in developing best practice frameworks to guide the rest of the country. The three utilities are also rolling out smart meters to all of their customers.  Of course, it doesn’t hurt that California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has vowed to get more stimulus money than any other state in the nation!

Texas comes in right behind California, with three of its utilities—CenterPoint Energy, Oncor, and Austin Energy—already rolling out smart meter. Other states that have made significant advances are Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Illinois.

But although, these particular states stand out right now, others are also showing signs of coming up to speed on smart grid technology. Given that the world is moving to an Electricity Economy, modernizing the grid is one of the smartest things we can do to remain globally competitive.

This video brings together a team of experts to explain what the smart grid is, how it works and how it can have significant benefits for Americans.

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