Rising energy prices, increased environmental awareness and desire for greater control on the power consumption are some of the factors that that have led to an urgent need for making our power grids technically advanced. Though, smart grid technology has been making headlines recently, few are familiar with the entire gamut of its benefits and its role in boosting the power sector.
What can a Smart Grid do?
Most of our existing power plants pump energy into the electricity grid but have no precise control over the flow or amount of electricity or over frequency fluctuations, something that is increasingly important with modern gadgets and power sensitive facilities like data centres. We also know how an electricity disruption can drastically affect banking, communications, corporate businesses and security. A smart grid with distributed set of sensors and switches and two-way interactive capacity can add resilience to the electric power system, minimize outages and allow automatic rerouting during equipment failure.
Moreover, the present power generation depends largely on fossil fuels which are the biggest source of carbon dioxide emissions in the world. To minimize environmental impact, on one hand we need to optimize our electricity grid systems and on the other, reduce dependence on fossil fuels. A smart grid helps manage electricity demand sustainably, as it possesses energy storage potential and demand response capacity to balance electrical consumption with supply. It also has the capability to integrate renewable energy resources like wind and solar onto the grid, offering reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, consumers will be able to sell their PV-solar generated energy upstream to the utility in the form of a credit to their energy bill.
But, what makes a grid smart?
A key driver in the smart grid implementation is the latest digital and automation technology that allows for a two way communication between power supplier and power consumer. It consists of computer based remote controls and has existing & emerging technologies working together to respond digitally to fast changing electricity demands. When properly implemented, these technologies can increase efficiencies in power production, transmission and distribution (T&D), improve reliability and enhance consumer participation.
Some of the advanced smart grid technologies in transmission include Flexible alternating current transmission systems (FACTS) to deliver maximum power and help stabilize the grid with precise power control, High-voltage direct current (HVDC) technology to supply long distance power with minimum energy loss, Wide area monitoring systems (WAMS) for tracking critical system parameters and Supervisory control and data acquisition systems (SCADA) that analyses real-time grid conditions. Besides, high-efficiency distribution transformers, intelligent substations and automated distribution feeder enable instantaneous adjustments to changing loads.
However, smart grid is not just about utilities and technologies, but also about giving consumers information and tools to make choices about their energy use. The building automation systems for HVAC, lighting and water supply pump systems are solutions for consumers to take control of their energy usage. Additionally, smart meters give users information on the units of energy consumed and real time pricing for the same.
Barriers & Solutions for Smart Grid Operation
While, there are many advantages of a smart grid, there are certain hurdles to overcome in its implementation. Installing smart grid requires renovating the power network including cabling and substations which needs huge investments. Lack of consumer awareness, insufficient economic incentives by policy makers, cyber security and data privacy are some of the other major issues. However, the scale and degree of these challenges vary from country to country.
Creating favourable rules and regulations and the right economic environment in a country will help attract more private players and provide access to affordable funds. Also, needed is a robust national political and economic framework to guard the investors from risk and to yield power at lower cost to the customers. Simultaneously, educating consumers before implementing smart grid concepts and offering user friendly products and services will help them adopt new technology easily. And to tackle cyber security risks and data privacy issues, utilities can employ rigorous cyber security standards.
As a matter of fact, given the growing energy demands of the world, it is imperative we upgrade our aging energy infrastructure. The smart grid represents an opportunity for the power sector, to move into a new era of reliable energy supply, integrated renewable power source and reduced carbon footprint.