Last week, the Public Utility Commission of Ohio (PUCO) launched an initiative with the intent of taking the first steps to modernize the electricity grid in Ohio. The PowerForward initiative will be a series of workshops over the course of the year that will bring together the expertise of many stakeholders to ultimately develop a path to Smart Grid implementation.
The term Smart Grid basically means bringing the power of the internet to our century old power grid. It involves a transformation from a centrally controlled system to a decentralized and consumer interactive system by joining together the flow of electricity with real-time communication. What are the big promises of a Smart Grid to customers?
Promise #1: Price Incentive Innovation
Real-time communication can monitor the dispatch of large power plants all the way down to individual home appliances. With automatic devices, consumers of all sizes can then manage their participation in the power grid, essentially making decisions about their own power consumption based on real time data. Manufacturers have had the ability to participate in this type of demand responsiveness in exchange for price incentives and a Smart Grid will enable even residential customers to make usage decisions based on real time prices of electricity.
Promise Example: Smart appliances can be programed to run during lower-priced off-peak hours; air conditioning units can be responsive to not only temperature but price thresholds. If enough of this load becomes price responsive it can displace the need for new infrastructure such as peaking power plants.
Promise #2: Integration of Distributed Generation to Lower Costs
Distributed generation is a term used to describe small power plants, generally owned by private users, which are located near their consumers. The power plants do not require long distance transmission of the power with state of the art efficiency and therefore can be very cost competitive. However, the original grid did not contemplate power being fed into the system at the “end of the line” which can cause potential issues such as voltage sags and frequency disruptions. Full adoption of distributed generation will require the grid to handle the plug- and-play application of these new assets while maintaining grid quality.
Promise Example: A university would like to oversize a solar project in order to sell excess power to the grid. Buyers want the power and are willing to pay market prices. The university is able to implement the project without prohibitive costs to upgrade the distribution system. The distribution system is able to handle the incoming power and route it in the most efficient manner to customers.
Promise #3: Increased Efficiency
Having two way communications integrated into the grid will allow it to be responsive without human intervention. Our current system requires many human controls at the utility level to react to supply and demand changes. If consumers and power plants are reacting real time to price changes there will be no time for human intervention. The system must be capable of responding to the desires of both stakeholders instantaneously.
From the utility perspective having real time communications along the entire delivery path should allow for the delivery of less power through more corridors. Monitoring line conditions with advanced sensors can alleviate congestion between delivery zones resulting in less volatile pricing between locations.
Promise Example: With distributed generation, instead of adding a new transmission line to meet projected demand, power can be rerouted and controlled using numerous existing smaller distribution lines. Demand is able to react to prices resulting lower peaks during hours of high prices. This results in lower hourly energy prices for the entire constrained area.
Promise #4: Increased Reliability
Sensors can isolate faulty transmission segments reducing the impact of outages for all those on the circuit. Such automation can instantaneously identify the fault, isolate the issue, transfer uninterrupted supply to working segments and call on generating capacity from adjacent feeders to increase overall reliability.
Promise Example: You don’t have to call your utility about an outage; they already know it, have isolated the issue and are working on a solution. Also, instead of everyone in your neighborhood suffering the outage during the hottest day of the year only the neighbors on your street will be miserable.
There is little doubt in my mind that now is the time for robust conversation about the future design and potential of Ohio’s electric power grid. PowerForward should prove to be a good start in bringing these conversations together.