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What Is the Smart Grid?

Leave a comment / Posted By syrup on January 9, 2012

Many people are asking, “What is the Smart Grid?” Many more are trying to define it with short “sound bite” descriptions. These short statements cannot adequately convey the level of detail needed to provide a clear understanding. The Smart Grid isn’t a thing but rather a vision and to be complete, that vision must be expressed from various perspectives – its values, its characteristics, and the milestones for achieving it.

Smart grid values
The transformation to the Smart Grid will require new investment and commitment by its many stakeholders. These stakeholders expect significant value in return. Understanding how this value will be created is an important step in defining the vision. Expectations for the Smart Grid are great and will be realized through advances in each of the six value areas described below:

  • It must be more reliable. A reliable grid provides power, when and where its users need it and of the quality they value.
  • It must be more secure. A secure grid withstands physical and cyber attacks without suffering massive blackouts or exorbitant recovery costs. It is also less vulnerable to natural disasters and recovers quickly.
  • It must be more economic. An economic grid operates under the basic laws of supply and demand, resulting in fair prices and adequate supplies.
  • It must be more efficient. An efficient grid employs strategies that lead to cost control, minimal transmission and distribution losses, efficient power production, optimal asset utilization while providing consumers options for managing their energy usage.
  • It must be more environmentally friendly. An environmentally friendly grid reduces environmental impacts thorough improvements in efficiency and by enabling the integration of a larger percentage of intermittent resources than could otherwise be reliably supported.
  • It must be safer. A safe grid does no harm to the public or to grid workers and is sensitive to users who depend on it as a medical necessity.

Smart grid principal characteristics
The Smart Grid can be considered a “transactive” agent. That is, it will enable financial, informational, as well as “electrical” transactions among consumers, grid assets, and other authorized users. Its functionality is defined by the following seven principal characteristics:

  • First, it will enable active participation by consumers. The Smart Grid will give consumers information, control, and options that enable them to engage in new “electricity markets.” Grid operators will treat willing consumers as resources in the day-to-day operation of the grid. Well-informed consumers will modify consumption based on the balancing of their demands and resources with the electric system’s capability to meet those demands.
  • Second, it will accommodate all generation and storage options. It will seamlessly integrate all types and sizes of electrical generation and storage systems using simplified interconnection processes and universal interoperability standards to support a “plug-and-play” level of convenience. Large central power plants, including environmentally friendly sources such as wind and solar farms and advanced nuclear plants, will continue to play a major role even as large numbers of smaller distributed resources, including Plug-in Electric Vehicles, are deployed.
  • Third, it will enable new products, services, and markets. The Smart Grid will link buyers and sellers together – from the consumer to the Regional Transmission Organization. It will support the creation of new electricity markets from the home energy management system at the consumer’s premise to technologies that allow consumers and third parties to bid their energy resources into the electricity market. The Smart Grid will support consistent market operation across regions.
  • Fourth, it will provide power quality for the digital economy. It will monitor, diagnose, and respond to power quality deficiencies resulting in a dramatic reduction in the business losses currently experienced by consumers due to insufficient power quality.
  • Fifth, it will optimize asset utilization and operate efficiently. Operationally, the Smart Grid will improve load factors, lower system losses, and dramatically improve outage management performance. The availability of additional grid intelligence will give planners and engineers the knowledge to build what is needed when it is needed, to extend the life of assets, to repair equipment before it fails unexpectedly, and to more effectively manage the work force. Operational, maintenance and capital costs will be reduced thereby keeping downward pressure on prices.
  • Sixth, it will anticipate and respond to system disturbances (self-heal). It will heal itself by performing continuous self-assessments to detect and analyze issues, take corrective action to mitigate them and, if needed, rapidly restore grid components or network sections. It will also handle problems too large or too fast-moving for human intervention.
  • And finally, the Smart Grid will operate resiliently against attack and natural disaster. The Smart Grid will incorporate a systemwide solution that reduces physical and cyber vulnerabilities and enables a rapid recovery from disruptions. Its resilience will create an image that intimidates would-be attackers. It will also be less vulnerable to natural disasters.

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