We live in a time when our technologies can automatically adapt to, modify, analyze and learn from our everyday behaviors and preferences. We have smart homes, smartphones, smart cars and smart everything else, but what about what goes on behind the scenes that powers these devices and provides the backbone to their success? As our world has entered the digital age, so too has the electric power grid, transitioning to keep up with our ever-developing society.
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? Despite the grid’s vital role, many are unfamiliar with what allows this power transmission, this master of instant energy transfer, to occur so seamlessly.
The grid refers to the web of transmission lines, transformers, wires, switches and more that deliver generated electricity where and when it is needed. Although it is constantly improved and updated, our current grid has been standing strong since the 1890s.
Often referred to as a marvel of engineering, the grid is the largest interconnected machinery built by humans. Its vast complexity and size give way to thousands of power plants and electric utilities and millions of miles of power lines. However, the grid was originally built when power was localized and homes needed only enough electricity for a few loads.
Thanks to increasing societal demands and evolving technologies, the 21st century has put the grid’s aging infrastructure to the test. To ready it for today, a new wave of advanced digital and smart equipment is being deployed.
What Makes a Grid Smart?
The smart grid brings information technology and communication devices to existing networks to reduce electricity waste and energy costs while improving reliability and efficiency. The result benefits customers, their communities and their power companies. A key component of the smart grid is two-way communication, which allows users and utilities to more effectively connect with their smart grid technologies.
Even though our grid remains safe, reliable and affordable, it has functioned without significant change since its creation. Modernizing it to adapt to current advancements and demands will foster new economic, societal and environmental opportunities. The benefits of this transition include:
- Highly advanced and efficient energy transfer
- Easier integration of clean, customer-owned and utility-scale renewable energy
- Increased reliability and resiliency during emergencies
- Faster power restoration after disruptions
- Lower costs for customers
- Protection against security threats
Easing the Integration of Renewable Energy and Other Technologies
The world is developing rapidly, and adding cutting-edge grid technology is vital to allow the energy industry to advance to a new level of efficiency and reliability. One significant change, and a major driver of the smart grid, has been the evolution of distributed and variable energy sources, such as wind and solar.
The smart grid eases integration of customer- and utility-owned renewable energy. As these systems continue to thrive and mature, a supportive grid with demand-response capabilities and higher efficiency is necessary to improve their potential. Another exciting aspect of the smart grid is its ability to support electric vehicles (EVs), and drivers and utilities can better navigate EV charging so that it benefits all parties.
Increasing Resiliency and Reliability
Electrical disruptions from weather and other threats can have tremendous consequences. A smarter grid helps reduce and isolate outages before they spread, ensuring quicker and more organized recovery. In addition, by better integrating distributed energy resources, it offers residents and communities more reliable backup during these urgent situations.
Lowering Energy Costs and Giving Customers Control
Smart grid technology gives customers more access to their energy use, meaning fewer surprises when the electric bill comes. With smart meters, energy management systems and other devices, customers can see when and where their energy is being used and can program appliances to run at specific times, such as scheduling energy-consuming tasks for low-demand and cheaper periods.
Like checking a bank account online, smart grid technology uses a customer-friendly format for staying up to date on and managing electricity use. By giving customers control over their consumption, it can improve comfort and reduce energy costs.
To learn more about the smart grid and how it is being used in North Carolina, visit our Exploring North Carolina Smart Grid webpage.