The Smart Grid will quickly detect and limit power outages.
Grid, Heal Thyself The Smart Grid will feature distributed intelligence all along the system, Berst says. He explained that in the event of a minor problem—if a branch touches a transmission line and singes it, for example—the grid might be able heal itself by resetting a smart fuse, called a digital relay. Also, according to Berst, if a falling tree broke a line, a smarter system could isolate the power loss to just that section of line, eliminating the corresponding surges and sags across the lines that create system-wide power losses. "You open the switch on both ends and power can't pass through that section," says Berst.
Utilities have begun investing in modernizing their plants and transmissions
Smart Grid Timeline, Cont'd
2012 - 100-watt incandescent bulbs will phase out, GE says.
2013 - 75-watt incandescent bulbs will phase out.
2014 - 60-watt and 40-watt bulbs will phase out.
2020 - DOE expected to set even higher energy efficiency limits.
2020 - President Obama’s target date for reducing greenhouse gas emissions 14 percent below 2005 levels.
2020 - Consumers in California will be required to begin time-of-use electricity pricing.
2030 - Many features – including some we can’t envision now – of Smart Grid expected to be in place. Demand-response (incentives to shift energy use to off peak hours) and increased energy efficiency could offset 40 percent of the growth in summer peak demand.
Ongoing after 2030 - The target date is not the endpoint – the grid will continue to improve and change – just as the Internet has.
systems with digital technology. New digital technology will allow utility companies to see what's happening on the grid at a rate of 30 observations per second, compared to one every four seconds now, says Paige Layne, a spokeswoman for Duke Energy. This warp speed data can be used to quickly trigger corrective actions to maintain reliability. "This technology allows us to respond faster and talk back to the grid," says Gianna Manes, Duke Energy's chief customer officer. "It drives up reliability."
With the current grid, "Most utilities find outages now by recording where the complaints are coming from," Berst says. "If more are coming from one area, they send trucks that way, and then poke and prod to try to guess where the problem is. With Smart Grid, the problem will light up on a giant map. You can see how many homes are affected, notify them with an automatic dialer and see what work crew is the nearest."
This new technology is working already. Duke Energy has upgraded equipment in Hendersonville, N.C. Recently, says Layne, a tree fell across a line near a substation serving about 1,500 customers. With previous technology, the system would shut down all 1,500 customers, and they'd remain off until someone from Duke Energy assessed the problem in person and turned the equipment back on. "We'd have to send a crew to the equipment," Layne says. "They'd have to climb the poles and operate the equipment manually. That may take an hour or more." With the new digital technology, the sensors quickly determined the precise location of the downed line. "Instead of shutting everything down, the system will stop the power flow only on the segment of line where it senses a problem," Layne says. "The digital system will switch the energy in another direction so electricity continues to flow on the line where there's not a problem. Instead of 1,000 or more customers out, it was just a handful."
According to Berst and Manes, this fast-response technology allows the utility to confine a problem to a smaller area, and help prevent a medium-to-large outage, whatever the cause, from becoming a widespread blackout. "During a major outage, electrical flow either sags or surges, throwing the entire grid out of balance," Berst says. "Too much or too little power can bring the whole system down and the ripple spreads out from there."
Says Manes: "We can create a wall with the equipment to prevent the wave from rolling through the entire system." The technology won't prevent problems, "But you haven't gone from Ohio to New York in a blackout as we did in 2003," Berst says. That particular blackout resulted in a $6 billion economic loss to the region, DOE says.
Managing Peak Demand The problem with peak demand, DOE says, is that electricity must be consumed at the moment it's generated. Without being able to precisely determine that demand, having the right supply available is problematic on the existing grid. According to DOE, When demand peaks, electric utilities must stand ready to ramp up expensive-to-run peaker (or stand-by) plants. The goal is to avoid building and using these plants.
"We need these standby generators for only 100 hours a year," Berst says. "It's the equivalent of buying a house but staying in it only two weeks a year."
With Smart Grid in place, utilities could manage peak demand by asking customers for permission to limit some usage during busy periods—perhaps by raising your AC two degrees for 15 minutes at 6 p.m. on a hot summer day or turning off your hot water heater for a few minutes during a peak use period.
New technology—digital Smart Meters, home energy managers and smart appliances—will make that possible. For example, a smart refrigerator-freezer might cycle into its energy gulping defrost mode at 2 a.m. instead of at random times, including 7 p.m. when your oven, AC, and washing machine are already in use. When you start your dishwasher at night, the default setting would be a delay start – until demand and rates dropped in the middle of the night. In a rush for clean dishes? The consumer still has the option of overriding the default setting. Your water heater could include a special chip that would enable your utility to delay its heating cycle during peak demand. Benefits to you might include a price break on your bill in exchange for allowing your utility to make these adjustments for you in some cases with smart appliances.