Data and intelligence power the smart grid
The electric industry, launched by Edison over a century ago, is undergoing a dramatic shift. The data revolution has arrived and promises to forever change the way we use electricity. The new “smart” grid is certainly presenting new challenges to electric power grid managers — data collection, communications, access, storage, security, computing, and decision support systems, all needing to run in real time. I believe that learning how to harness the power of data in real-time will be the key to delivering improved reliability, lower costs, and reduced emissions.
The electric grid refers to the physical infrastructure made up of power plants, wires, substations, transformers, circuit breakers, capacitors, insulators, transmission towers, and meters. The electric grid is all things physical — machines, wires, and equipment. The smart grid refers to the overlay of a data layer on top of the physical grid to collect, network, and distribute digital intelligence about each element of the grid in real time to whoever needs it. The smart grid adds a real-time information layer to the physical grid.
Why is this happening now? Advances in digital technologies to measure, collect, communicate, and compute data have made this economically and technically feasible. Think Internet, computers, fiber optics, smartphones, and tablets.
Why should we care? The smart grid offers the promise of making the grid more efficient, reliable, and responsive. It can fundamentally change how electricity is produced, transported, and consumed.
Because storing electricity is traditionally very onerous, production and consumption (supply and demand) of electricity must be synchronized and in balance every second, every hour, every day of the year. Imbalances show up as brownouts (dimmed lights), blackouts, and, in extreme cases, grid collapse such as the one that hit India, leaving 680 million people without electricity. Events like this tend to get the attention of energy authorities and businesses around the world.
The smart grid should help with “keeping the lights on” and reduce the incidence of blackouts — and when they do occur — contain them and speed up restoration. The key to the smart grid’s effectiveness is collecting real-time data from each element of the physical grid and making the intelligence available to all stakeholders, including power producers, power consumers, power marketers, grid operators, and asset owners. This intelligence always existed locally; though capturing comprehensively and making it available to all to make informed, fact-based decisions is the essence of the smart grid. The use of smart grid data for decision making will enable stakeholders to take powerful actions such as: reduce use when prices are high, increase use by charging electric cars and storing electricity when prices are low, reduce transmission use when congestion tolls are high, and so on.
At Electric Power Group, we are focused on a next generation smart grid technology called synchrophasors, to help manage the grid. Synchrophasor technology collects data at 30 to 60 times per second (compared to once every 2 to 4 seconds from legacy systems). This high-resolution data promises to provide visibility of grid dynamics equivalent to MRI visibility compared to the current X-ray resolution picture. The data volume is 60 to 240 times greater so communications, storage, latency, security, and access are all new challenges. This new capability along with others have the potential to deliver on the promise of reliability and efficiency.