The Smart Grid is driving us towards a new Energy Future.

The Smart Grid is evolving and will be essential in the next decade to bring the kind of transformation our existing energy grids require. Infrastructures to be fit for purpose must be fully integrated and smart to manage the increasing complexity and needs of electricity in the 21st century.

Smart Grids are part of the Smart Infrastructure approach in our need for complete Urban Transitions currently being undertaken. Let me try to step back here and give some broader understanding of “smart grids”

Firstly there is a need and push to changing the Energy Systems we have installed to be more responsive, adaptable and flexible.

There is a considerable movement to a very different way of power consumption presently going on. A move that brings the end customer into the equation far more than in the past, through the development of Smart Energy Grids.

The electric power system is undergoing a radical transformation worldwide, firstly with the decarbonize electricity supply, in replacing aging assets and transforming control with new information and communication technologies (ICT).

A smart grid system is self-sufficient electricity network system based on digital automation technology for monitoring, control, and analysis within the supply chain, connected into the (national) grid. Being smart it is increasingly providing electrical power from multiple sources of energy, increasing renewable energy sources, including wind turbines, solar power systems, and biomass. Smart grid technology is to provide easy integration and reliable service to the consumers

The Smart Grid has opened Energy distribution up in radical ways.

The Smart Grid is presently being built, more from a bottom-up movement to handle today’s demands, driven by digitalization, where we are all becoming reliant on computerized equipment and technology, where energy is essential to be “on” at all times. Our world has become a connected one and energy keeps it “turned on.”

Transitioning from the past centralized energy grids into decentralized ones

The “grid” refers to the electric grid, a network of transmission lines, substations, transformers and more that deliver electricity from the power plant to your home or business. In the past, energy grids were all about utilities managing their infrastructure, protecting their assets and responding to any ‘outage’ as quickly as humanly possible.

The past way was to manage energy by a central generation source, that put in place the distributed system where consumers or customers were designated as ‘just’ a receiver of energy services, trapped often by one monopolistic provider.

Energy supply, through this non-participative dialogue, became a general expectancy that “you flip the switch” and supply would be instantly available. The problems with this one-way flow of energy management have been increasingly under pressure for some time.

Energy supply has been reliant on decade-old infrastructure approaches; it became over time a ‘patchwork’ network that always needed to keep being repaired, added to, or fixed, to keep it going. The concept of the energy grid needed modernizing as it was not keeping pace with the increased variance in demands.

Many energy grids today are becoming highly vulnerable, not just to manage increasingly sudden “peak demands” but was having to deal frequently with outages and emergencies from increasingly severe storms, earthquakes, and other natural disasters, as well as increased risk of terrorist or security attacks.

The shift  is towards “Smart Grids.”

To move towards a different energy grid, we needed a new kind of electric grid, known today as the “Smart Grid.”

What goes into a Smart Grid?

A smart grid works like the internet or your smartphone. It allows for two-way communication between the utility, through the energy ‘transmission structure’ to the customer. By having this grid digitally connected through the transmission structure, the technology and the equipment infrastructure works together to give a responsive environment to adapt changing electric demand, detect and minimize outage when equipment fails, or requirements alter.

Also, this is not a one-way “flow” as in the past from energy supply to customer. There is a whole new “distributed generation” where customer-owned or community-owned generators can produce their energy and contribute any excess generated back into the grid.

This dramatic change in the energy business model has opened the potential for “home-grown electricity” that complements and augments energy supplied through the primary grid. The ability to generate and sell back into the grid allows the customer to play an increasing part in optimizing the operating system and reducing their costs.

Exciting new solutions are emerging, three examples being:

Solutions are emerging to offer “zero-net-energy commercial buildings” that can balance energy generation and conservation through smart grid technology approaches.

We see the pioneering of energy storage through Smart Grid Technologies with thermal storage or hybrid air conditioning for influencing peak load demands, and we have the growing potential of lithium-ion batteries for PHEV applications.

The ability to improve on the sensors enables more power to flow over existing lines, and along with continued improvements in superconducting cables, there is potential to reduce losses and carry 3-5 times more power than traditional copper-based cable.

In summary, a smart grid can deliver a dramatically different energy environment

A smart grid employs innovative products and services together with intelligent monitoring, control, communication, and self-healing technologies to:

  1. Better facilitate the connection and operation of generators of all sizes and technologies.
  2. Allow consumers to play a part in optimizing the operation of the system.
  3. Provide consumers with greater information and options for how they use their supply.
  4. Significantly reduce the environmental impact of the whole electricity supply system.
  5. Maintain or even improve the existing high levels of system reliability, quality, and security of supply.
  6. Maintain and improve existing services efficiently.
  7. Apply digital processing and communication across power grids
  8. Allow data to flow and gives information management a more central role to make “energy smart.”

The Smart Grid comprises everything related to the electric system in between any point of generation and any point of consumption, so the grid becomes more flexible, responsive, and interactive and from this improves the system by providing real-time feedback that improves efficiencies and effectiveness.

Source of reference https://www.iec.ch/smartgrid/background/explained.htm>

Author: @paul4innovating

A transition advocate for innovation, ecosystems and the energy system

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