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Smart Grid Explained: How Modernizing the Electric Grid Will Benefit Us All

Imagine a giant spider web spread across the United States where each thread carries electricity to millions of Americans. Congratulations – you’ve just pictured the U.S. electric grid! The grid has over a million megawatts of generating capacity and is connected to over 600,000 miles of transmission lines. Whenever you turn on your TV, switch on a reading lamp, or plug in your phone, that’s the grid hard at work. However, the grid is more than the transmission lines and towers you see around your city. It includes asset owners, manufacturers, service providers, government officials at all levels. Think of them as friendly spiders, all of whom are working to make sure the web/grid is operating 24/7.

While the U.S. electric grid is one of the most efficient grids in the world, our electric infrastructure is aging and facing stress as electricity demands rise and our energy industry evolves. That’s where the “smart grid” comes in. The grid is made “smarter” with the introduction of new technologies, equipment, and controls that can deliver electricity more reliably, dramatically reduce the length and frequency of power outages, and reduce storm damages. It’s like giving the spiders stronger thread to build their web with.

Now, let’s get more in-depth. Continue reading to unravel the mysteries of the smart grid, discover how the smart grid affects your company and property, and why it all matters right now.

Source: SmartGrid.gov

What are the Components of the Smart Grid?

A smart grid requires communication between the customer and the utility generating electricity. In short, the digital technology that allows for this communication and the sensing along transmission lines makes the grid smart. The sensors, known as Phasor Measurement Units (PMUs), allow operators to assess grid stability and connect customers with innovative digital meters that provide better information and automatic outage reports.

Within the smart grid, controls, automation, and new technologies all work together to respond to changes in electric demand.  The added technical abilities to the grid provide numerous benefits to both suppliers and consumers:

  • Support for renewable technologies – The smart grid simplifies the integration of renewable energy sources into the grid. Traditional grids struggle to incorporate renewables because of their frequent intermittency due to weather.
  • Keeping their lights on – Smart meters alert utilities of outages so that they are managed efficiently and power is delivered consistently.
  • Saving everyone money – Smart meters give customers real-time information about their consumption resulting in a reduction of the peak demand. This lowers electricity rates.

What Does the Smart Grid Do, Anyway?

Originally, the implementation of the smart grid had goals of improving demand-side management, increasing energy efficiency, and promoting a self-fixing grid that supports reliability and resiliency.  However, as technology has continued to advance, the modernized smart grid has allowed for an increase in consumer control and cost savings through demand response.

  • Blacking out isn’t good for you. It isn’t good for the grid, either. Blackouts can create a domino effect, triggering a series of failures that affect communications, traffic, and more. (If you live on the Eastern Seaboard, you probably remember the recent lengthy blackouts following Tropical Storm Isaias.) A smarter grid makes the electric power system hardier, empowering it to weather storms, earthquakes, and terrorist attacks without blacking out.
  • Because of its two-way interactivity, the smart grid allows power companies to automatically reroute electricity during equipment failures or outages. When an outage occurs, smart grid technologies can spring into action to identify and isolate said outage before it snowballs into a large, lengthy blackout.
  • Smart grid technology helps electricity supply resume quickly following a large emergency. I.e., power companies can prioritize electricity for hospitals and first responders.
  • The smart grid can use customer-owned power generators to produce power when it is not available from utilities. That means a community could keep its essential businesses and services running during emergencies.

Power to the People – Literally

With the smart grid, consumers can have more control over their personal energy costs and consumption because their data is more accessible. Imagine managing your electricity in similar way to how you manage your bank accounts or investments online. That’s what a modern, smarter grid will allow – a never-before-seen amount of consumer participation in the electricity system. You won’t have to wait for your monthly bill to see how much electricity you used – “smart meters” will allow for real-time and interval data monitoring, so you to see in how much electricity you use and when you use it . Combine this with real-time pricing and you will be able to voluntarily reduce or shift your electricity usage during peak hours when electricity prices rise.

Electric Vehicles and the Smart Grid

The smart grid has the potential to impact Electric Vehicle (EV) technology. Electric powered vehicles in the US have grown at a 32% compound annual rate over the past four years. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, EV power consumption is projected to increase greatly by 2025. As conventional power plants are retired (and no new ones are built), will the power grid be able to handle spikes in usage due to EVs becoming mainstream? As discussed above, modernization will greatly strengthen our power grid. That means that the system should be able to bear the load of additional EVs and use existing electricity efficiently to power them.

Creating the Smart Grid

As the smart grid develops, it will be essential to test new technology, educate the public, and determine standards and regulations. Another critical step will be a strategic research, development and demonstration (RD&D) effort that involving the public and private sectors. After all, the smart grid will contain millions of pieces and parts that must all work seamlessly. That perfection won’t be attained overnight. Instead, we can expect to see the smart grid evolve over the next ten or so years. But once it peaks, you can expect the smart grid to have a big impact. We’re talking creation-of-the-internet kind of big. With a global pandemic and climate change breathing down all of our necks, this is just the sort of good news we need.

EnergyWatch and the Smart Grid

As the smart grid continues to evolve, EnergyWatch can help you to identify which strategies will most benefit your facilities.  If your company is taking advantage of the smart grid by generating their own renewable energy sources for consumption, EnergyWatch’s watchwire platform can help track, analyze, and ensure your generation sources are meeting expectations.  Additionally, watchwire notifies you of potential peak load days when you can scale back on your energy use (or the best times to start using your own generation), verifies and quantifies system performance, provides real-time visualization of performance and alerts through watchwire , and optimizes your procurement strategy to take advantage of peak load management activities.