marketing and advertising groups often have a tendency to profit from technological trends faster than engineers and users can clear up into the technology itself. maybe it’s no surprise that it is tough to hold back the motivation to get a product to market and profit. ideal now the most glaring example is the practice of carelessly putting WiFi in appliances and toys and putting them on the Internet of Things, but there is a similar type of fiasco playing out in the electric power industry as well. known as the “smart grid”, an effort is underway to modernize the electric power grid in much the same way that the Internet of things seeks to modernize household appliances, but to much greater and immediate benefit.
A Cutler-Hammer industrial breaker ominously predicts the coming confusion in the smart grid arena.Photo by Bryan Cockfield
To that end, if there’s anything in need of modernization it’s the electric grid. often still extensively using technology that was pioneered in the 1800s like synchronous generators and transformers (not to mention metering and billing techniques that were perfected before the creation of the transistor), there is a lot of opportunity to add oversight and connectivity to nearly every part of the grid from the power plant to the customer. Additionally, a lot of modern grids are aging rapidly at the same time that we are asking them to carry a lot more and a lot more electricity. Modernization can also help the aging infrastructure become a lot more efficient at delivering energy.
While the term “smart grid” is as nebulous and as ill-defined as “Internet of Things” (even the us Government’s definition is muddied and vague), the smart grid actually has a unifying purpose behind it and, so far, has been an very beneficial way to bring needed improvements to the power grid despite the lack of a cohesive definition. While there’s no single thing that unexpectedly transforms a grid into a smart grid, there are a lot of things going on at once that each improve the grid’s performance and status reporting ability.
Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA)
The a lot of widely used grid control system is known as Supervisory control and data Acquisition, or SCADA. This is an industry-standard across a large range of technologies which has been adapted for use on the grid. This allows power system operators to see which breakers are open or closed, which generators are online, what the voltages are at various points, where problems in distribution lines might be, etc. It allows dispatchers to get a high-level view of the grid and to take some control over how power flows through it. Newer implementations and additions to this system allow the grid to detect faults a lot more swiftly and divert power flow around the fault, if possible, which is a crucial feature of a modern smart grid.
While SCADA is a powerful tool for system operators and dispatchers, it can be lacking in some areas that have been a lot of impacted by modern technology. Certainly, a grid equipped with only a SCADA system is not considered a smart grid. Specifically, it lacks control of anything going on “behind the meter”, or within a customer’s control, which is where a lot of emerging smart technologies are focused. This includes managing electric car charging, active management of power-hungry appliances like water heaters and air conditioners during times of height demand, and microgeneration like rooftop solar.
Analog Meterby Kristoferb CC-BY-SA 3.0
Smart Meterby Kristoferb CC-BY-SA 3.0
Besides these certain new technologies, another major part of the smart grid has already been widely implemented: the use of smart meters. These are electronic (rather than electromechanical) meters that can report energy use remotely, eliminating the need for a meter reader. It also allows for demand-rate metering and other innovative ways of billing at particular times of day and for different uses which older style meters cannot do. Unfortunately, despite all of these advantages, these particular devices are often in the news because an very small minority of people have become convinced that the non-ionizing radio waves that the smart meters use are somehow harmful, despite absolutely no evidence to support their claims, and despite the fact that these frequencies see substantial use already.
Absorbing Blips with Battery Banks
Another crucial improvement that the smart grid brings to the table is the ability to easily manage energy storage. While battery technology is notoriously behind schedule, it’s currently not economically viable to have large-scale batteries on the grid to store energy for longer than a few hours.
Most battery banks that are online do a task called “load balancing” where short-term (in the range of seconds to minutes) supply and demand is balanced. For example, starting up an industrial facilitet som en savmølle kan sætte en kort høj efterspørgsel på det lokale net, som kan afbalanceres af en batteribank næsten øjeblikkeligt i køb for at lindre en spænding SAG. På den anden side kan et pludseligt belastningstab på gitteret absorberes ved at oplade batteribanken, som opretholder gitterstabilitet i den anden retning.
Måske i den fremtidige batteriteknologi vil være mainstream nok til at absorbere daglige efterspørgselsfulde efterspørgsel fra noget som et solide, men prispunktet og teknologien er ikke helt, hvor de skal være for udbredt vedtagelse af noget på den skala. Flow batterier er et respektabelt alternativ til lithium-ion-batterier til denne type applikation, men skal forbedres før en storskala adoption.
Ligesom batteribanker kan mikrogeneration bruges til at hjælpe det smarte gitter også. Mikrogeneration refererer til små kraftproduktion som rooftop sol eller små metan generatorer på lossepladser. Et tilstrækkeligt smart net har meget mere evne til at vide, hvornår disse distribuerede generationsfaciliteter er online, og kan bruge disse oplysninger til at opretholde gitteroperation på en meget mere effektiv måde end ellers ville være muligt.
Med alle sine fordele har Smart Grid imidlertid ikke en klar standard endnu. Ligesom internettet af ting, virker det ofte som en lovløs teknologisk fri for alle. Der er ofte ikke engang enighed mellem magtvirksomheder, der opererer i samme stat eller land for, hvordan de skal klare og udføre disse nye teknologier. Hvad branchen har brug for, er en klar standard til rally bagved, men det ser ikke ud som noget vil fylde det, når som helst snart.