The Smart Grid of Tomorrow

February 03, 2016
By Dan Ackermann

America’s electrical distribution grid has been in service for over 100 years. While a grid of this size is a technological marvel, it’s aging fast. 

According to the Department of Energy, 70% of the grid’s transmission lines and power transformers are over 25 years old. And the average age of America’s power plants is over 30 years old. All the while, our power demands continue to grow. 

Power outages aren’t fun for anyone. But they’re a part of life in centralized power distribution. A vast majority of outages are weather related, but other causes such as short circuits and power surges also apply. 

The second largest blackout in history was the northeast blackout of 2003, which affected the Northeastern and the Midwestern United States, as well as Ontario, Canada. An estimated 55 million people lost power for an extended time due to a software glitch. 

An overloaded transmission line went unnoticed due to a bug in the control software. This prevented operators from recognizing and responding to the problem, containing it to a local outage. It took some remote locations over a week to have power restored. While this event could have been prevented with better coding, it’s a testament to the volatility of a centralized power system. 

With these conditions, it’s only natural that innovating the grid has become a hot topic. Microgrids, energy storage systems, and smart meters are just a few advancements that ease the strain on the grid.

Let’s take a closer look at each:

Microgrids

microgridMicrogrids help ease the strain of the larger grid system by allowing entire sections of the grid to disconnect entirely and operate independently. This flexibility helps lessen the effects of larger grid incidents but also improves uptime for the individuals and businesses within the microgrid’s service area.

Driven mainly by renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power, they also increase the overall efficiency of the system. And in the event of a main grid outage, microgrids can be used as an energy resource for faster response and recovery. 

Energy Storage Systems 

energy storage systemsThe main point of strain on the power grid is the peak usage that happens at times throughout the day. Think summertime with air conditioners on full blast to beat the heat. Typically this is where a ‘peaker plant’ would come online to meet the energy demands at that time. 

Peaker plants are expensive, though, and consume a lot of natural resources in the process. Luckily energy storage systems are poised to lessen the need for, or eliminate, the usage of peaker plants. 

By storing energy in large banks of batteries during low load times, that energy can be distributed when it’s needed to smooth out the demand curve and lessen the need for supplemental power generation.

Smart Meters

smart meterHaving a distributed power grid with demand-smoothing energy storage certainly helps maintain a more robust system for today’s heavy power consumption, but it’s equally important to stay on top of the usage data to understand exactly how power is being used and when. 

That’s where smart meters come in. Smart meters add the ‘big data’ aspect to the modern smart grid. Instead of just reading electricity usage, they employ two-way communication with the utility provider.

There are a few key benefits of widespread adoption of smart meters. First, the meter has the ability to alert the utility provider immediately in the event of a power outage. This feedback used to be a manual process where customers would have to call in to report a loss of power. Instant feedback will make service restoration faster by giving the power company a direct look into the area affected the moment an outage happens.

Smart meters also provide a lot more data that consumers can use to save money. Power usage can be measured in hourly increments; and if a utility provider offers time-based rates, consumers can actively modify their energy habits to use less power at peak times where the costs would be highest. For example, running a washer and dryer in the morning instead of peak afternoon hours.

With all of these changes coming to our power grid, applications of this technology need advanced and robust components to get the job done without fail. 

Panasonic batteries and relays, including the new HE-PV Series, are at the forefront of these applications, providing cutting edge solutions to power storage solutions and smart meters.

For More Information download our Smart Grid Solutions brochure or visit our Panasonic Relays and Battery Technology pages today.