Why Smart Grid?

Written by Fei Fei

August 14, 2003, North America.  During a high power demand day a minor grid line in Ohio overheated; the operators’ unawareness of this line failure turned the relatively insignificant local blackout into a widespread power outage.  At that time, it was the second large blackout in the world, which affected the Northeastern and Midwestern United Sates and the Canadian province of Ontario.
This type of costly disruptions  remind us of  how our electric power infrastructure, the grid that since the late XIX century has been transmitting electricity , is rapidly running up against its limitations and why a new and more flexible system  of transmission is required.  Grid operators have limited control and information about how energy is flowing through the system making more difficult and costly to redistribute the power.  What we need and what we can actually implement is a set of technologies, applications and devices that change the traditional electric grid from a centralized producer-controlled network to a more decentralized and consumer interactive one.  New technologies that sample the voltage many times per second, provide snapshot of the power system, which enable operators and software to constantly monitor the distribution process. We are talking of a set of software, computers, sensors that not only can detect in real time any malfunction and disturbances in the system and provide a quick automatic response, but also manage the peak and low demand according to a more intelligent energy-saving scheme. We are talking about SMART GRID indeed. The benefits of Smart Grid go beyond the distribution process as follows:
More efficient transmission of electricity and reduction of peak demand
Quicker restoration of electricity after power outage
Reduced management costs for utilities, and eventually lower power costs for consumers.

Easing the storage of electricity is a key point. Think of the renewable energy, the solar or wind power for instance; they are free, environment-friendly, potentially unlimited resources and yet account, not considering hydropower, for around 6% in the electricity production, which consume up to 40% of American sources. The main reason for this is the variability of these sources. Although they can yield high voltage, they are not constant, the spread due to weather condition and day-night turnover for instance makes them difficult to be fully exploited.  Smart Grid can help to smooth out the volatility and better allocate the flow of energy from the renewable sources plants by storing excess energy. In addition, utilities are more encouraged to involve consumers through strengthening net metering programs, which are programs that allow the flow back of energy in the grid as credit for the consumer who produces electricity on his own (just think at rooftop solar system). 
Therefore, other relevant benefits are: 
Increased integration of renewable energy systems
Better integration of customer-owner power generation systems, including renewable energy systems
Eventually reduced carbon footprint.

In conclusion, Smart Grid is a facility that can really have an impact on energy issues and our life; so I warmly invite you to join us at the conference we are organizing to address this topic. In the meanwhile have a look at this web site and enjoy the videos for additional details!