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Smart Grid Technology Breathes New Life Into Electrical Power Systems

By: John Bailey

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The electrical grid is comprised of substations, transformers, power lines, and other equipment that work collaboratively in a network to deliver electricity seamlessly from the plant where it is generated directly to consumers in their homes or businesses.

However, the current U.S. electric grid, originally built in the late nineteenth century, has been stretched to capacity. A new, updated “smart grid” is on the horizon, one that can support the development of digital equipment and the evolving technology that depends on it. A new smart grid will manage the needs of today’s digital age as the power industry faces a surge in demand.

A Cutting Edge Solution

The smart grid is a planned network that uses information technology to distribute electricity more securely nationwide with greater efficiency. The smart grid will enable flows of energy and data in both directions in contrast to today’s electrical grid, which routes electricity only one way. It will also integrate advanced communication technologies and connected devices such as high-power converters, sensors, and smart meters to optimize network availability, energy, and demand for improved energy management.

Smart grid technology also makes communication possible between the utility company and its customers using sensing technology along transmission lines. This technology includes digital controls and computers that work together with electrical grid equipment to respond rapidly to changing demand.

Modernizing an Aging System

Today, a power outage can cause a succession of failures that can impact the framework of society, such as financial institutions, communications systems, city infrastructures, and security. When outages occur during the winter, homeowners lose heat, an essential resource. Smart grid networks will provide greater stability, accessibility, and reliability while positively impacting the environment and the economy. This technology will create a more robust and secure electric power system equipped to handle emergencies such as severe weather events and terrorist attacks.

Smart grids will be capable of automatically re-routing energy flows when there are power outages or equipment failures to minimize their impact. In addition, smart grid components can detect problems and prevent them from becoming massive outages while reducing recovery time. The new smart grid system will utilize “distributed generation” resources, which are customer-owned power generators that can be tapped into when utilities are down, allowing a community to keep its hospitals, police departments, and traffic lights up and running during emergencies.

Benefits of a Smart Grid

Smart grid technology offers a multitude of benefits:

Key Features of a Smart Grid

Comprised of millions of parts – controls, sensors, computers, power lines, advanced technology, and equipment, the smart grid will continue to evolve over the next decade to improve the transmission and distribution of energy. Several key features are integral to smart grid technology.

Smart Grid Communication Technology

Energy networks have always included one-way communication pathways from the utility plant where energy is generated to the customer’s meter. Today, technology has made possible two-way communication channels between the consumer and the supplier.

GIS (Geographic Information System) technology is a vital tool that uses location as a primary component for equipment location and smart grid design and operation. With GIS technology, the best location for setting up communication devices can be determined more intelligently.

A smart grid that uses GIS technology can competently deliver energy securely, monitor demands, manage outages, and provide actionable insights.

Advanced Metering Infrastructures (AMI)

Smart metering maintains the grid’s efficiency, manages energy resource distribution, supports administrative processes, customer engagement programs, and more.

Smart meters measure and evaluate electricity usage and continuously transmit the data collected to centralized locations. They can communicate with the grid, sharing and receiving information with other connected devices. Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) is the networking of devices and processes that allows for this two-way communication capability, one of the latest metering and communications technology advancements. This advancement serves as a catalyst for the shift away from flat-rate fees for electricity in favor of time-of-use pricing, where the cost of electricity is determined by how much it costs to generate it at any given time. This will result in a more efficient and stable grid as it encourages a shift of usage away from peak hours and lowers the cost of electricity for everyone.

Substation Automation Frameworks

This is where data is collected, processed, and exchanged between substation devices and equipment through seamless communication networks. Modern substation automation frameworks implement intelligent electronic devices (IEDs) that incorporate processors that send and receive time-critical data to and from external sources, such as digital relays, controllers, and meters.

IEDs are a main component of substation integration and automation technology. Substation integration includes incorporating protection, control, and data collection functionality into a small number of platforms to reduce operational costs and eliminate unnecessary equipment.

Distribution Intelligence

This part of the smart grid encompasses the utility distribution system, which includes all components (wires, switches, transformers) that connect the utility substation to its customers. The main component of distribution intelligence is outage detection and response. In conjunction with distribution intelligence, smart meters will quickly identify the source of a power outage so that service may be restored promptly.

Sensors can signal when parts of the distribution system lose power. Automated switching can be used with an intelligent system to re-route power to customers in seconds. This streamlined detection may enable a faster response that will effectively limit who is affected to the immediate area where the outage originated, rerouting the power source quickly enough to avoid any interruption in power for most other customers. This capability truly demonstrates smart grid technology in action.

A Solution to Aging Infrastructure

The smart grid is the answer to an aging power grid that needs to be upgraded. Smart grid technology provides efficiency, brings awareness to consumers about the connection between electricity and the environment, and it also fortifies the national security of our energy grid as it can draw from home-grown energy sources which are more resistant to natural disasters and attacks.

Software providers can enlist expert-level developers to assist them in creating smart grid solutions for a host of networks, in addition to meter programming for two-way communication between the service provider and consumer. A reliable team of software developers and digital transformation experts would effectively facilitate the digitization of electrical grids, which will improve accessibility to renewable energy, make energy more affordable for consumers, reduce operations costs for utilities, and support improved and secure transmission of power to communities.

Disclaimer:

Chetu, Inc. does not affect the opinion of this article. Any mention of specific names for software, companies or individuals does not constitute an endorsement from either party unless otherwise specified. All case studies and blogs are written with the full cooperation, knowledge and participation of the individuals mentioned. This blog should not be construed as legal advice.

Chetu was incorporated in 2000 and is headquartered in Florida. We deliver World-Class Software Development Solutions serving entrepreneurs to Fortune 500 clients. Our services include process and systems design, package implementation, custom development, business intelligence and reporting, systems integration, as well as testing, maintenance and support. Chetu's expertise spans across the entire IT spectrum.

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