According to John McDonald, the Director of Technical Strategy & Policy Development at GE, there are six main smart grid solutions he would like to see employed:
1. Asset optimization
Protect what you’ve got. The electric grid is a vast, complicated system which currently does a poor job of relaying information back to the utility provider. The ability to asses the state of elements within the grid enables the system to run as smoothly as possible. One such example of asset optimization is dealing with transformers. The average lifetime of a transformer is 42 years, but when they die they go out kicking and screaming. A failing transformer will not only leak oil (requiring costly clean up) but it can explode, sending shrapnel through a substation and damaging other equipment. Having eyes and ears all along the network can head off problems like this before they start.
2. Smart meters & communication
Smart meters installed in homes, businesses and industry will be able to send and receive information from the electric provider. Consumers gain access to the cost of electricity and can program their appliances to be more economically efficient. These meters send usage information back to the grid and cede a certain level of control to the utility to keep the system free of rolling black outs and/or brown outs.
3. Demand optimization
A corollary to smart meters & communication, demand optimization is the ability for an electric utility to control how much power it releases into its distribution area. At times of peak usage, utilities may cycle certain appliances on and off to retain the fidelity of the system while causing minimal discomfort to its customers. As global climate change increases temperatures and prolongs grid-threatening heat waves, this type of cycling will become indispensable.
4. Transmission optimization
Important technical facets of transmission can lead to efficiency gains. One example is ensuring the relationship between voltage and current (i.e. the phase angle) becomes more accurate than it is today.
5. Distribution optimization
Handle supply variability (e.g. from renewable energy sources) by introducing technologies that can predict energy availability (i.e. wind speed and cloud cover forecasts) and store excess energy intelligently to be released at period of low energy production. Distribution may be optimized in other ways as well, such as introducing more sophisticated fault detection.
6. Workforce & engineering optimization
Regardless of how smart the grid becomes, utilities still need to send technicians into the field to respond to problems. Two-way communication between homes and utilities offers more sophisticated information about the nature (and existence) of problems before technicians arrive on the scene. This can lead to more timely responses with technicians carrying more appropriate equipment, less time will be spent on service calls, and fewer trucks will be on the road. Ultimately, the tangential costs of energy will decrease.
Tomorrow, I will continue my series of posts on the smart grid by relating a conversation I had with PPL Electric Utilities’ Alan Rotz on the topics of future sources of energy and key federal governance challenges to resolving our national energy crisis.