Smart Grid – The Grid of the Future

By Lindsay Brecheisen | December 28, 2017

Today, we live in the information age where our technologies are able to automatically adapt, modify, analyze and learn from our everyday behaviors and preferences. We have smart homes, smart phones, smart cars and smart everything else but what about the technology that powers all these devices and provides the backbone to their success? As our world has entered the digital age, our electrical grid has also been transitioning to a more advanced and smarter version of itself to keep up with the world’s ever-developing society of technology.

The Grid’s History

Did you know that every time you plug into an outlet you are connecting to an intricate network of complex equipment responsible for powering your daily life? Even with such a vital role, many are unfamiliar with what allows this power transmission to occur so seamlessly throughout the day. This master of instant energy transfer is known as the electrical grid. In short, the electrical grid refers to a reticulation of transmission lines, transformers, wires, switches and more that deliver generated electricity to where it is needed, like in your home and to your smart devices. Although it is continuously being improved and updated with each decade, our current grid has been standing strong since the 1890’s. Often referred to as a marvel of engineering, the grid is the largest interconnected machinery built by man. Its vast complexity and large size gives way to 5,800 power plants, 3,200 utilities and over 2.7 million miles of power lines. However, the grid was built during a simpler time when power was localized and homes only needed enough electricity to power a few loads throughout the day. The 21st century has put it to the test as technology has evolved, driving the need for a modernized grid with advanced capabilities.

With the increasing demand modern society has imposed on it, combined with its aging infrastructure, the grid is on the verge of reaching its capacity. To encourage its continual success, a new wave of grid technology is being employed. Comprised of advanced digital technology, smart grid technology is the quickly evolving, modern and tech-savvy successor to the original grid.

What Makes a Smart Grid So Smart?

Essentially, the smart grid brings information technology and communication to electrical networks to reduce electricity waste and energy costs, while improving reliability and efficiency to benefit customers, their communities and their power companies. The key component contributing to its intelligence is its ability to allow two-way communication between a utility and its customers. The smart grid is made up of a variety of different technologies, such as smart meters and microgrids, working together to respond digitally to the quickly changing electric demand.

Benefits of a Smarter Grid

Even though our current electrical grid is safe, reliable and affordable, it has functioned without significant change since its creation. Modernizing it to adapt to current technological advancements and demands will foster new economic, social and environmental opportunities. The factors and benefits driving its demand for modernization include:

  • Highly advanced and efficient energy transfer
  • Easier integration of clean energy, customer-owned and utility-scale renewable energy
  • Increased reliability and added resiliency during emergencies
  • Faster power restoration after disruptions
  • Lower power costs for customers by reducing peak demands
  • Protection against security threats

Easing the Integration of Renewable Energy

The world is developing rapidly and transitioning to cutting-edge grid technology is vital to allow the energy industry to advance to an all new level of efficiency and reliability. One significant change since the grid’s creation in the late 1800’s, and a major driver of the smart grid, is the evolution of distributed and variable energy sources such as wind and solar. The smart grid enables an easier integration of customer-owned power generation systems and renewable energy systems like utility-scale solar farms. With renewable energy sources continuing to thrive and mature, a supportive grid with demand-response technology and higher efficiency is necessary to improve their vast potential in the modern-day energy industry.

With its preparation to handle new demands, the smart grid promotes renewable energy technologies and further secures the United States’ energy independence. An exciting aspect of smart grid technology is its potential to facilitate the growth and feasibility of electric vehicles. With its stronger ability to handle peak demand, drivers will have lower rates when plugging in to charge overnight and peace of mind that their vehicle will be sufficiently charged for the following day. Additionally, electric vehicle charging stations linked to the smart grid can allow drivers to identify themselves and automatically bill the charging to their account.

Increasing Resiliency and Reliability

Electrical disruptions have proven to cause tremendous system failures and have shown the fragility of the conventional grid when faced with emergencies such as tropical storms or security threats. These disruptions can cause a series of failures among the grid but a smarter grid has the capability to reduce and isolate outages before they spread. This added resiliency will ensure a quicker and more organized recovery in the face of emergency. Also, by easing the integration of distributed and variable energy sources for utilities and customers, the smart grid allows residents and communities to have a more reliable backup system for electricity during outages and other urgent situations.

Lowering Energy Costs and Giving Customers Control

Smart grid technology gives customers the ability to access and manage how much electricity their home is using. That means there are no more surprises when opening the monthly electricity bill. With smart meters and other energy management systems, customers can see when and where their energy is being used and can then program certain loads to use energy at specific times, like scheduling more energy-consuming tasks for low demand periods.

Like checking a bank account online, smart grid technology employs a customer-friendly system for staying up to date and managing the amount of electricity being used. By giving customers control over their energy use based on personal needs and rate fluctuations, smart grid technology can reduce monthly electricity bills.

To learn more about smart grid technology and how it is being used in North Carolina, please visit Advanced Energy’s Exploring North Carolina’s Smart Grid webpage.