My mother is writing a book. She learned how to use a computer, and has been diligently crafting her story chapter by chapter. If only the local electric grid would cooperate. A single power disruption of a few seconds wiped out an entire chapter of her book. Now she is reworking a previous version and trying to remember all the changes she made as she reconstructs the file. This is an illustration of one of the great problems that the Smart Grid can solve. Our current electrical grid is unreliable. According to the Galvin Electricity Initiative, the existing system is built to “three nines” reliability, which means that it is up and running 99.9 percent of the time. However, that .1 percent of the time when the system is not reliably delivering power means wasted time, lost productivity, negative impacts to business bottom lines, and compromises to societal health and safety.
These outages are not a result of cyber attacks – although such attacks would be equally or more devastating to affected consumers and businesses. These are a result of aging infrastructure, insufficient intelligent monitoring and control of transmission and distribution equipment, and a reliance on highly centralized generation that leaves end users vulnerable to breaks anywhere along the line. There are many resolutions to these problems using Smart Grid technologies, but most importantly, distributing power generation facilities at many points within the electrical grid, and creating microgrids within larger grids will improve overall reliability. Distributed energy storage is another Smart Grid technology that promises to improve reliable delivery of electricity.
Picture this: My mother’s retirement community is a very nice campus environment located in the heart of the Pennsylvania Dutch country. It includes a skilled nursing facility and residential housing for assisted living and independent living situations, and that means medical needs for electricity. The campus is surrounded by dairy farms, some operations devoted to hogs and chickens, and lots of fields of corn. A bucolic setting, and a rural economy that could leverage the waste products of these operations for distributed generation of at least some electricity well downstream of centralized generation plants. These farmers could harvest energy in addition to their crops, and store it in batteries – just like they now store grain in silos and corn in cribs.
If the local electrical distribution system is upgraded with Intelligent Electronic Devices (IEDs) that can sense power fluctuations, the retirement community need never fear a power outage – their electricity would instantaneously switch from the centralized source to a nearby farm source, or even to the community’s own battery backup to ensure uninterrupted power. The farmers could enjoy another source of income, and everyone would be happier with a more reliable energy supply. This scenario has further advantages of building a clean and renewable domestic energy industry and creating local jobs – always a welcome prospect in rural America.
So if you think the Smart Grid only delivers benefits for utilities, think again. The Smart Grid means distributed generation, distributed energy storage, and distributed intelligence delivering improved reliability of electricity for everyone. It means my mother will never have to retype and redo a chapter again, and if mama is happy, everyone is happy.
For more information about distributing generation and energy storage across the grid, click here.