Smart grids are only as smart as the information that they gather and assimilate. In an ideal world, they are distributing electrons in an optimal way and avoiding traffic jams, and brown outs.
It’s about more than driving efficiency and reliability. It’s also about incorporating the new set of dynamics in the electricity market place, which include distributed generation, analytics or data analysis, and customer engagement, or the ability of power generators to communicate directly with their customers to save energy. Today, the machines are all interconnected, driven by data that is collected and centrally stored.
“We are all looking at data and how it will enable expectations,” of utilities and end users, says Mike Carlson, president of Siemens Smart Grid, at the group’s meeting in Boston last week. “What will we do with it and how will we make it relevant? It is all in real time — a digital grid, which is not possible without the next generation of analytics added to it.”
The technology must initially optimize wholesale energy markets by, first, assessing how much energy is needed to meet the demand within a ‘controlled area’ and, second, by determining the best generation sources to dispatch while it considers all the potential constraints on a transmission system.
A proactive system will find any fault. It will isolate it. It will then address the issue by protecting those homes and businesses unaffected by a fault, or a disturbance.
Intelligent devices improve operation and maintenance costs and avoid possible penalties that would be levied by state public utility commissions. And if the power stays on, utility revenues increase — and society, in general, is safer and better off because of the investments in infrastructure.
There are new demands, for example, namely wind and solar energy requirements. But emerging tools now exist to help utilities not only comply but also to increase reliability and environmental goals.
“The reality is that a lot of the systems we’re working on today wouldn’t have been possible five years ago if not for the advancements in high-speed automation, visualization, and platform integration,” says Ken Geisler, head of strategy for Siemens Digital Grid, at the conference.
“For example, feeder automation technology like what we have installed in New York City requires high speed coordinated protection, communications and control center integration to support the necessary decentralized decision-making as well as effective centralized coordination,” he continues. “I believe the industry has seen a step-change in the ways it can use smart software and systems, and we’ll continue to see that evolving over the next five years and beyond.”
The transmission and distribution system is, indeed, a sophisticated engineering feat — one that has sustained the test of time. But that does not mean that it could not be even better, or “smarter” in utility terms. The electricity market place has evolved, necessitating the need to balance supply and demand with today’s electric generation offerings, all with consumers and costs in mind.