Smarter Grid

The electric grid can be thought of as the largest man-made machine.  Quite literally (glossing over certain technicalities in definition and interconnection), it can be seen as a single, integrated “device” that stretches from coast to coast (and beyond if you include underwater cables in some areas).  To do that, and to supply electricity to millions of homes and businesses along the way, it has to be pretty smart, already.

The evolution, then, of the ‘smarter’ grid, is now in the early stages of becoming a burgeoning field.  This new smarter grid will be the convergence of the traditional energy/electric power industry, the telecommunications industry and the information technology industry along with an array of new deployed systems, equipment and devices including renewable energy, energy storage, energy efficiency, power generation and transmission.

Key findings of the current status of the smart grid were defined in the recent Smart Grid System Report to Congress by the DOE’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability:

Distributed energy resources: The ability to connect distributed generation, storage, and renewable resources is becoming more standardized and cost effective. While the penetration level remains low, the area is experiencing high growth. Several other concepts associated with a smart grid are in a nascent phase of deployment these include the integration of microgrids, electric vehicles, and demand response initiatives, including grid-sensitive appliances.

Electricity infrastructure: Those smart grid areas that fit within the traditional electricity utility business and policy model have a history of automation and advanced communication deployment to build upon. Advanced metering infrastructure is taking automated meter reading approaches to a new level, and is seen as a necessary step to enabling dynamic pricing and consumer participation mechanisms. Though penetration of these systems is still low, the growth and attention by businesses and policymakers is strong. Transmission substation automation remains strong with greater levels of information exchanged with control centers. Cost/benefit thresholds are now encouraging greater levels of automation at the distribution substation level. While reliability indices show some slight degradation, generation and electricity transport efficiencies are improving.

Business and policy: The business cases, financial resources, paths to deployment, and models for enabling governmental policy are only now emerging with experimentation. This is true of the regulated and non-regulated aspects of the electric system. Understanding and articulating the environmental and consumer perspectives also remains in its infancy, though recent reports and deliberations indicate that significant attention is beginning to be given to these issues.

High-tech culture change: A smart grid is socially transformational. As with the Internet or cell phone communications, our experience with electricity will change dramatically. To successfully integrate high levels of automation requires cultural change. The integration of automation systems within and between the electricity delivery infrastructure, distributed resources, and end-use systems needs to evolve from specialized interfaces to embrace solutions that recognize well-accepted principles, methodology, and tools that are commonly recognized by communications, information technology, and related disciplines that enable interactions within all economic sectors and individual businesses. The solutions to improving physical and cyber security, information privacy, and interoperability (conveniently connect and work within a collaborative system) require disciplines and best practices that are subscribed to by all stakeholders. A cross-disciplinary change that instills greater interaction among all the stakeholders is a necessary characteristic as we advance toward a smart grid. Progress in areas such as cyber security and interoperability is immature and difficult to measure, though improved approaches for future measurements are proposed.

For full report, see: http://www.oe.energy.gov/DocumentsandMedia/SGSRMain_090707_lowres.pdf

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