Most of today’s electrical grid was built somewhere between 40 and 60 years ago – even Thomas Edison would recognize it. The grid is inefficient and becoming increasingly unreliable as we continue to add to it. In this article, we give you a quick overview of the transition towards the smart grid.
What is the smart grid?
Smart grid can be defined as a class of electrical components and systems that enables a two-way communication between suppliers and consumers, collecting information and acting upon it to ensure increased efficiency, reliability, better economics and sustainable use of electricity.
Another way to describe it is intelligent energy management.
Why do we want to move towards a smarter grid?
The electrical infrastructure is outdated. A smarter grid would lead to a wide array of other benefits. Here are some of the most important ones:
The smart grid is a series of absolutely necessary steps in order to reduce our green house emissions through smarter energy use.
By implementing smart-meters in every home, information can flow in a two-way fashion. This gives consumers more energy control and a better understanding of the household’s energy use. Knowledge on how and when electricity is being used and how much the costs are at a certain time.
One could imagine that if the cost of electricity exceeds a certain value, users could program the recharging of an electrical vehicle to cease (or another appliance for that matter).
This will in more general terms, encourage and move the electricity consumption from the peak into the off-peak period, where it is less expensive to generate electrical power. This will not only benefit the customer itself, but the system as a whole. Smart grid data analytics can further improve reliability and efficiency also on larger scales.
Above is an illustration of appliances that can be integrated into the smart grid. (Credit: General Electric)
Integrating Renewable Energy
Today’s electrical system relies heavily on fossil fuels. During peak hours, we often use gas and oil fired coal plants to satisfy the demand. Solar and wind are not good in providing a stable flow of energy. Changes have to be made to implement renewable energy on large scale.
Smart metering would also allow consumers to sell electricity back to the grid, further promoting the use of residential solar panels and wind turbines (among other things).
By making the transition from gasoline and diesel to electricity will happen, we are taking massive amounts of carbon out of the equation.
An important piece in the puzzle to move towards a smarter grid and introducing larger quantities of renewable energy is energy storage. Both solar and wind energy are unpredictable, and neither of them cooperate well with the peak demand.
With today’s grid, since electricity travels with the speed of light, the electricity has to be used the instant it is created. Implementing smart grid energy storage systems can solve this.
Read more about energy storage for the electrical grid in Grid Energy Storage – CAES, Pumped Hydro and Flywheel and Compressed Air Energy Storage (CAES).
Residential energy storage is also relevant to the smart grid and implementation of renewable energy. Your own generated electrical power from wind turbines and photovoltaic can be stored for later use.
Batteries, flywheels and many other technologies can be used – or the electricity can be sent on the grid and even profited from. However, the grid requires an upgrade for this to be done on larger scales.
Organizing, developing and installing all the components and binding them together require a huge work force. The transition to the smart grid generates employment opportunities all over the world.
Stability and Safety
A smarter grid would be less prone to blackouts and other unforeseen stability and safety issues. It is also better with power line failures.
Why is it taking so long?
The technologies for the smart grid are already here – and have been for many years. However, implementing measures that moves us in a direction towards a smarter grid requires large-scale cooperation between utilities, the industries involved and the governments. What problems do we face in making the transition?
We need to encourage the demand for the technology. How can we do this? By imposing mandates:
- Carbon pricing
- National renewable energy standards
- National efficiency standards
Smart grid and energy efficiency should be a part of the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), the Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) in the United States and Renewables Obligation (RO) in the UK.
The right incentives and the right information needs to be in place for the implementations of the innovations that is required to move towards a smarter grid.
A journey not a single destination
Smart grid is not something that will be implemented and finished in one go. It is a range of different measures – not everything will happen at once. This is why it sometimes is referred to as the smarter grid.
Is the smart grid the future or just a fantasy? It is inevitable that the changes toward the smart grid. It is not the solution to global warming, however, it is an absolutely necessity.