America’s security, economy, health, and safety all depend on the continuous delivery of electricity. Yet, our electric infrastructure is being pushed to operate more efficiently as it ages beyond its expected lifespan.
Modernizing the grid using smart grid technology and control software is one way to make our electric grid more resilient. These technologies work together to control the delivery of electricity reliably and efficiently throughout the system and to detect and reduce the impact of outages and problems.
What Power Grids Were Like before Smart Grid Technology
Without smart grid technology, the nation’s power grid is a series of connected networks that are inter-dependent. Failure in one part of the system can quickly lead to failures down the line which cascades into collapse.
A good example of this inter-dependency is the 2003 blackout that began in Ohio when a tree branch took out a transmission line. Over the course of an hour, a series of errors took out two more transmission lines which triggered a cascading failure. Approximately 50 million people from Michigan to New England and Canada lost power, according to the Daily News.
Without smart grid technology, power restoration moves more slowly as failure points must be located and repaired. In contrast, smart grid power management software allows problems and failures to be detected early or avoided completely. When problems do occur, power is rerouted, and assets and personnel are deployed quickly to prevent systemic failure and shorten downtimes.
How does a Smart Grid Work?
Using power management software, computer processing, advanced sensors, and two-way communication technologies, smart grid technologies map and monitor the power grid continuously. Built in relays sense faults in the substations and recover automatically. Automated switches re-route power to keep the system working.
Operators, using smart grid technology, monitor the entire power grid, quickly locating and repairing problems. They are able to access all needed information about the grid stability instantly from one location. Prior to smart grid technology, technicians had to check sensors and function at multiple sites along the grid.
How is Software Automation Affecting the Electrical Grid?
Software automation provides multiple layers of protection for power generation, distribution, and grid security. Power management software monitors and independently controls each section of the entire system. Problems or failures in one section of the grid can be isolated, protecting neighboring sections. If any part of the system is compromised, the threat is isolated and the system reroutes power along the grid to contain the problem.
Smart grid technologies also offers numerous additional benefits to power generation and distribution systems, including:
- Reducing frequency and duration of power outages
- Restoring services faster after an outage
- Potential for self-healing without human intervention
- Improved grid security and reduced vulnerability
- Allowing consumers access to usage data, better controlling consumption and costs
- Managing and reducing peak loads
- Rapid isolation of failures
- Preventing cascading failures by rerouting of power around the problem
- Increased integration of renewable energy sources
- Automated control of battery storage of power
- Reduced operational costs
- Improved fault detection
- More reliable electric supply
Why Do We Need Smart Grids?
As our electric grid ages, governments, regulators, and consumers are looking for ways to improve energy generation and delivery to homes and businesses. A smart grid is a comprehensive solution that helps reduce the waste of electricity and energy costs. This technology allows better control of energy delivery and management.
Smart grid technologies are essential to transitioning to renewable energy sources and balancing energy demand. Renewable energy sources like wind and solar power are variable, requiring energy management software that distributes energy efficiently and regulates energy storage for use during peak usage.
What does the Future of Utility Management Look Like?
The utilities industry is evolving rapidly. Rising costs, changing load patterns, and new smart grid technologies are driving innovation toward a bright future.
Additionally, regulatory changes and renewed interest in green energy sources is moving the industry in new directions:
- Decarbonization – Cleaner, emission-free electricity sources such as wind and power are growing
- Decentralization – The power grid continues to decentralize with more reliance on localized power generation and battery storage rise.
- Electrification – As electrical power increasingly comes from wind and solar, electrification is increasing in every area of technology, including transportation, heating, and industrial use.
As power companies face new challenges and expectations, disruptive forces are impacting the industry, forcing energy consumers and providers to react to changing market conditions. These disruptive forces fall into four main categories, according to a recent article by Deloitte.
- New digital technologies are creating new opportunities for new products and services
- New performance challenges and expectations
- New energy technologies
- New practices and business models
Smart grid technology and utility management software will allow the collection of real-time information data on electricity generation, transmission, distribution, and consumption. Real-time data allows utility providers to make better decisions in balancing resources and forecasting production costs and demand. Over the next decade, technologies and applications will continue to evolve, increasing flexibility, changing business models and how data is collected.