Smart grid: An idea for the future
Scott Matlock presented “Smart power,” describing Alstom’s vision of how to reduce the electric-power industry’s carbon footprint and maximize energy-use efficiency through better information management and the application of emerging technologies—such as carbon capture and storage. However, after listening to several transmission experts discuss the challenges associated with integrating renewables into the generation mix, it became obvious that “smart grid” was not in contention as a viable solution—at least not today.
Alstom’s premise is that the global electricity sector faces a significant three-fold challenge: satisfy soaring demand, curb emissions, and develop carbon-free energy resources. The company believes smart grid will help meet this challenge. In its view, “smart grids are set to revolutionize the way we produce, distribute, and consume electricity, delivering major benefits in terms of cost, quality of life, and environmental footprint.”
Here, smart grid is defined as an energy transmission and distribution network with embedded control, information technologies, and telecommunications capabilities that can provide real-time information to all stakeholders in the electricity value chain—from the generating plant to the home.
Alstom says that to maximize its return, a smart grid must expand its “smartness” from the end user upwards towards generation resources, allowing independent generators and load-serving utilities to optimize their assets to exactly match demand.
In a few years, the company believes, smart metering and demand management technologies in homes and commercial buildings will extend real-time control of energy use down to consumers. Expectation is that the smart grid would reduce the overall cost of generation and enhance grid stability, thereby facilitating the integration of intermittent renewables.
Smart meters and energy gateways would enable dynamic time-of-day pricing by giving consumers the ability to link up their smart critical appliances—such as hot-water heaters, hybrid cars, solar panels, etc—to local storage units and start operating or recharging automatically when signaled by the smart grid (Fig 23). Consumers also would be able to adjust their appliance settings remotely based on pricing information received on their computers, smart phones, etc, thereby contributing to a reduction in peak-time energy consumption.
Alstom’s visionaries say future electricity networks will embed new software applications to better assess risks related to generation intermittency and to allow grids to self-heal in emergency conditions and resist cyber and physical attacks. Such capability would enable operation of grid assets closer to their physical limits thereby reducing the need for capital investments in redundant systems and equipment.
Software applications at the distribution level promise to improve grid connection availability, avoiding costs incurred by businesses and consumers for power fluctuations and outages. The ability to share real-time data across the distribution system would further increase the transparency and liquidity of the energy wholesale market, bringing new storage and demand-response resources to reduce the need for standby generation. The expected result: A safer, more reliable, more efficient electric grid.