A Really Smart GRID

The National Energy Technology Lab (NETL) estimates the US loses anywhere between $119 and $188 billion each year due to power losses and power interruptions and quality issues (such as brown outs). In 2000 the cost of a one hour power outage in Chicago cost the Board of Trade nearly $20 trillion (NETL) in trades. And the stories of financial loss due to power outages go on and on.

Clearly, the value and cost of power is critical to our existence as a nation. Nearly everything we do is dependent on some level of electricity for support – whether it be for cooking, lighting, entertainment, work – we cannot live without electricity.

Only problem is we are still working on an electrical distribution system in the US designed in the 1940s and 50s. We, as a nation, need to invest in a next generation of electrical distribution systems. And those systems will need a lot of intelligence. The electrical GRID must become really smart.

What is a Smarter GRID?

Getting to the Smart GRID will take time. It is possible the US electrical does not have much time, as power requirements continue to grow, the GRID continues to age, and fossil fuel electrical plants continue to contribute to pollution and potentially greenhouse gases and global warming.

As the next generations Smart GRID requires several years of development before it is ready for deployment, we need to take some interim measures to bridge the time gap between the existing electrical GRID and delivery of a Smart GRID.

The Smarter GRID acknowledges the existing US electrical distribution system. Dozens of utility providers around the country providing energy from a variety of sources, including oil, coal, hydro, solar, nuclear, and wind.

The Smarter GRID uses the existing electrical GRID, and existing technologies to reinforce the GRID’s ability to operate effectively with the following characteristics provided by the Department of Energy:

  • Ensuring its (the electrical GRID) reliability to degrees never before possible
  • Maintaining its affordability
  • Reinforcing our global competitiveness
  • Fully accommodating renewable and traditional energy sources
  • Potentially reducing our carbon footprint
  • Introducing advancements and efficiencies yet to be envisioned

An analogy might be the development of web services. In the 1990s the “web” supported simple hypertext protocol with utilities such as “LINX,” a text-based browser, and “Gopher,” a rudimentary search engine. Both did technically the same job as modern web applications, and did bridge the gap between pure command lines and the graphical interfaces common today.

The Smart GRID of the Future

The Internet analogy is not bad, as it is the basis of the next generation of smart grids. With the IP address capacity of Internet Protocol ver. 6 (IPv6) Internet address space will be large enough to accommodate nearly anything produced that uses electricity. At some point in the future, the electrical GRID will be a communications media, and every device connected to the electrical GRID will have an IPv6 identifier such as 2001:db8:85a3::8a2e:370:7334.

Refrigerators, televisions, air conditioners – anything that consumes electricity will be part of a system designed to make the most efficient use of our devices. We will also add external and alternative energy sources to both the national GRID and individual communities and houses to further reinforce the electrical service we all need to ensure our way of life, security, and national economic and defense interests.

Try to imagine an electrical system that is able to:

  • Automatically turn devices on and off as needed to eliminate wasted energy consumption
  • Automatically load balances electrical distribution to accommodate peaks
  • Have visual management systems down to the house level to show users how much energy they are consuming at any point in time, as well as give recommendations for electrical devices within the house which can be shuit off (an example might be a battery charger on a mobile phone – if the “smart” manager identifies the battery as being fully charged, the system may automatically shut off the outlet until an actual draw is required)
  • Add energy “storage” devices to local areas and the GRID to save energy which may be lost due to loss of sunlight, damage to distribution systems, or other reasons. This stored energy is made available on demand during peak hours to supplement the main GRID
  • During periods of power outage, stored and renewable energy sources within the house or community can provide temporary and essential power to emergency services, and basic energy requirements, even if the community is isolated from the main electrical GRID
  • Save you money on your bill by using intelligence to eliminate wasted energy and energy leaks
  • Inherently “green,” as it strives to supplement fossil fuel and nuclear power generation with renewable energy sources such as wind, hydro, and solar energy –as well as reducing individual energy consumption

Role of the Internet in the Smart GRID

Using a combination of wireless systems, fiber optic backbones, Ethernet over Power, and satellite, all segments of the electrical system can be managed with software applications that are Internet-friendly (yes, the Dept of Energy does understand the need for security).

The DOE uses an example of the ATM to explain the interoperability of private systems using a common architecture. CitiBank, the Bank of America, Wells Fargo, HSBC, Barclays – all are independent banking systems, but all are able to share information and even distribute money to holders of cards from any association member, such as Star network.

The Smart GRID will use similar applications running over the Internet Protocol to share management, distribution, fault, and also billing settlements between electrical systems and private renewable energy sources.

The five main technologies used within the Smart GRID include:

  • Integrated communications, connecting components to open architecture for real-time information and control, allowing every part of the grid to both ‘talk’ and ‘listen’
  • Sensing and measurement technologies, to support faster and more accurate response such as remote monitoring, time-of-use pricing and demand-side management
  • Advanced components, to apply the latest research in superconductivity, storage, power electronics and diagnostics
  • Advanced control methods, to monitor essential components, enabling rapid diagnosis and precise solutions appropriate to any event
  • Improved interfaces and decision support, to amplify human decision-making, transforming grid operators and managers quite literally into visionaries when it come to seeing into their systems
    (the SMART GRID: an introduction <U.S. Department of Energy>)

While this is understandably a 1000 word superficial introduction to Smart GRIDs, the idea of an energy efficient, self-healing, interconnected, flexible, and intelligent manager of electricity is exciting. We all want to reduce our carbon footprint, we all want to save money, and we all want to ensure we have power when we want it. In the short term we can aggressively support developing structure and efficiency within the existing “Smarter GRID.”

In the longer term we have an obligation to both ourselves and future generations to develop a really, really Smart GRID that will reduce our carbon production, and ensure future generations do not lose billions of dollars from the economy every time our aging power system sneezes.

John Savageau, Long Beach

About johnsavageau
Another telecom junkie who has been bouncing around the international communications community for most of the past 35 years.

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