Grids with IQ

Grids with IQ

21 July, 2011
The lowdown
Smart grids transform the energy game
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Smart grids have an intelligent monitoring system to measure electricity flows in its system. By knowing when peak times are, a smart grid knows when to turn off appliances in homes or machines in factories to reduce electricity demand on the grid. Power loss is also minimized with the use of superconductive transmission lines. More interestingly, from a scaling up of renewable energy generation perspective, smart grids have the capability to integrate alternative sources of electricity such as wind and solar.

The modern electricity grid is not so modern at all. Centralized electric power transmission and electricity distribution technologies designed over 100 years ago are still being used today. Electricity networks are prone to security threats and power quality disturbances as well as blackouts. Without the ability to lessen peak demand and to maintain adequate reserves, they also allow energy wastage. However, smart grid technologies such as metering and electronic monitoring have emerged since the 1980s to monitor electricity usage. Italy’s Telegestore project was the world’s earliest example of a working smart grid, and is still today one of the largest. The company delivers annual savings of 500 million Euros at a project cost of 2.1 billion Euros.

The term “smart grid” covers the modernization of both transmission and distribution grids. With smart grids in place, market forces through competition between providers can help drive energy conservation and an increased variation of energy sources. To reduce demand during peak times, communications and metering technologies in homes or businesses can track how much electricity and when the electricity is used. Consumers can even earn a portion of the peak power saved by turning their devices off from electric utilities. With the intermittent nature of most renewable energy sources to generate power, smart grids provide a way of reducing electrical demand by load shedding and increasing electricity prices when the intermittency appears to decrease consumption. Renewable energy generation is also supported through the grid connection of distributed generation of power through technologies such as small wind turbines, combined heat and power generators and photovoltaic arrays.

Governments and the private sector around the world have been investing into the research and implementation of smart grid technology. In the US, Obama has asked the Congress to pass legislation on doubling alternative energy production and building electricity smart grids. China, in its current 5-year plan, aims to have a comprehensive Wide Area Measurement System by 2012. This system will be able to have sensors that can detect and quickly analyze anomalies in electricity quality over large areas. Korea aims to establish a smart grid city by the end of 2011. The Australian government has made a $100 million investment in smart grid commitment. In Europe, smart grid technology is part of the Europe Technology Platform, which aims to formulate a roadmap for the development of European electricity networks. Recognizing the demand, companies such as Cisco, GE and Google have been busily developing smart grid technologies with more intelligent communication infrastructures.

In 2009, the smart grid industry was valued at $21.4 billion, and this number is predicted to exceed $42.8 billion by 2014. With the multiple benefits of load adjustments and demand response as well as providing price signals and decentralization of power generation to consumers, smart grids are not only remarkable in their technological capabilities, but also an education tool for consumers to be more aware about their energy consumption.

Image via: JohnMason @ stock.xchng

By: Ecozine Staff
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