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Thursday, November 18, 2010

smarter grids

I have been at a conference related to Smart Grids at Delhi last week. There was a question asked by a BA student to me "What is this smart grid all about?"

I will try to answer this question as simply as I can in this post.

Electricity traditionally supplied to consumers from its generating plants using the "power GRID". The interconnected network of generating plant -> transmission grid (high voltage) -> distribution grid (medium voltage) -> Consumer (at 220Volts) is the power grid.

Due to the amount of investment into this core infrastructure of GRID, it has been a public sector (government) agency that built the grid. The way consumers buy or pay for the energy is dictated by the utility company.

As the infrastructure development slowly got de-regulated and more and more private participation is into power generation and "open access" to the power across the grid is being made available for consumers.

"Energy" is freely available in the nature in the form of Sun light, wind, tidal, flow of a river, coal, nuclear etc., forms but making it available in a house to the lights, fans, ACs and several electrical appliances like pump sets etc., costs money.

Energy has an initial "conversion" cost i.e., converting fuel to heat in a boiler and heat to mechanical movement of a turbine and the mechanical energy to electricity by a generator. Then it need to pass through the transmission and distribution channels to the consumer which adds a "transportation and distribution" cost. Finally the consumption at each end point is measured by a Meter that involves some costs of metering, billing and collection of bills through operating some channels like collection kiosks, bank direct debit etc., from the final consumer.

How is all this related to smartness of the GRID?

A customer has not much a role in the whole process... He uses the Electricity and pays the bill monthly... It is a one-way flow of information and energy!

As the demand for energy increases and the fossil fuel like coal decreases in availability one should think of methods to wisely use the energy. A smarter grid is an enabler for wiser generation, distribution and consumption of the energy.

A "smart meter" that can measure more accurate consumption and power quality at more frequent interval (e.g every one hour) gives a better understanding of consumption patterns for the consumer and utility, there by the energy pricing can be more dynamic as different price can be applied for peak hours and another price for non-peak hours.

A "smart meter" enables micro grids. Where ever possible small commercial customer can have their own "solar" or "wind" generation capability and when they have excess of energy they can reduce the consumption from the grid or even feed the energy back to the grid. So, the meter can measure two way i.e., import and export of the energy from and to the grid.

This makes the distribution grid to be more responsive to the demand and supply scenario. A distribution grid should instrument each transformer, feeder and substation to measure power quality and other key parameters for efficient use of the equipment by minimizing the asset maintenance costs and failures of the equipment. It will also ensure the energy lost over the transportation to a minimum. (Currently globally a 50% of generated energy never reaches any customer!!)

An interconnected set of devices they can exchange information along with the energy in both directions for the purpose of making intelligent decisions for wise consumption of energy/utility makes up a smart grid.

A customer is more informed about the prices of energy he is using at different times of the day, Utility can control some high power consuming equipment at customer premise remotely, information exchanged between the customer, distribution, transmission and generation entities in bi-directional, automated mode.

It will finally lead to conserving the energy, managing the demand and supply balance in a wise manner and finally make the planet EARTH more greener! That is the whole idea of smarter grids. Advancements in telecommunication and information technology enable the transformation of power grids into smarter grids.

I hope this post is simple and smart enough to explain what is a "Smarter Grid" to a novice.
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