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Better information builds 'smarter' smart grids

Posted: 26 Aug 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:smart grid? power system? renewable energy?

Potter: As new sources of information become available, these too will be incorporated to make the smart grid smarter.

Smart grid, which refers to the application of information technology to grid management, is currently a hot topic in power systems. However, a quick survey of the prototype smart grids around the world shows that there is no absolute agreement on what a power system must include in order to be considered smart. Drawing a clear distinction between what is and isn't a smart grid is not realistic at this stageand probably not even useful. What might be more useful is to understand the intention of the smart grid and what must be done to achieve the established goals.

There are a number of recurring features common to different smart grid implementations: the need to provide an interface between the consumers (and the consumers' appliances) and the traditional assets in a power system; the need for further autonomy in the operational software; the optimization of asset use; and the integration of renewable energy technologies that may not fit the conventional generator profile. These features bring significant benefits to power system operation whether in a developed country or in a developing country. In fact, in many ways the implementation of efficiency improvements is even more important in developing countries than in their further developed cousins.

Stability, reliability issues

Developing nations typically have power generation systems that are significantly less stable and secure than the wealthier countries. This can lead to frequent blackouts or brownouts. Economic cost estimates from the power losses can be enormous and there is much to be gained from reducing the frequency of these events. In developed nations the smart grid is primarily about improved efficiency for overall cost reduction (and possibly carbon reduction). In developing nations these same gains in efficiency may be the difference that enables a reliable supply of energy.

One option to optimize the assets is to allow for responsive loads (energy users). Instead of assuming that every load must be served regardless of cost, it may be more efficient to intentionally drop some loads in order to maintain a more stable supply. This is also doubly important in less-developed power systems since some loads may have higher priorities than others. Being able to employ the smart grid and allow for the use of responsive loads can result in significant increases in efficiency.

Moreover, renewable energy is being installed at a rapid rate all around the world. China and India are installing wind turbines at a very rapid ratein 2008 only the United States installed more wind energy generation potential. Europe already has a large number of wind generation facilities and many countries are beginning to look very seriously at significant solar generation as well. These technologies provide a free source of renewable fuel with improved energy security and also act to lower carbon emissions. However, weather-driven renewable energies cannot be treated like conventional plants; they are reliant on the environment. As a result, the generation mix is becoming less responsive and power system operators can no longer rely on supply-side control alone. In fact, in many cases the addition of renewable energy is cited as a driving cause for needing to create smarter electricity grids.


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