What is the Smart Grid?

What is the Smart Grid?

The Smart Grid is a system that interconnects the electricity distribution grid with two-way communications to provide energy monitoring and management for the utility and consumer alike. A smart grid delivers electricity with increased efficiencies to homes, businesses and industries. The overarching goal is to save energy, increase reliability and transparency, and reduce overall costs by more effectively managing and controlling appliances and systems. Ultimately, the improved communication and enhanced control provided by smart grid offers win-win solutions for both the utility and the consumer. The creation of the smart grid is made possible by a convergence of power generation technology, delivery technology and information technology. Utilities are in the midst of creating a vast, interconnected automated and interactive network focused on reducing energy costs and increasing reliability. Elements of this transformation will impact the customer, utility companies, manufacturers and service providers.

New jobs, exciting possibilities

The radical transformation of utility delivery requires specially trained employees, some in entirely new occupations. The utility industry needs workers for installation, operation and maintenance of current technology and development of new technology. As the system becomes more integrated, it will also drive demand for employees knowledgeable in information technology communications technology, cyber security, and systems integration.

The communications network is similar to the Internet, except dedicated for energy – and is similar to an “Energy Internet”, and can be looked at as four main areas:

Intelligent Grid Networking: A Smart Grid uses two-way communications from the utility's head-end systems to each segment of the power grid: distribution, metering, and consumer. Like the Internet, a Smart Grid network uses standard communication protocols to ensure compatibility and interoperability. The network connects substations, distribution grid devices, meters, and in-home devices with the utility’s head-end software to provide private communications for utility operations and secure communications to allow consumers to interact with their energy control devices.

Grid Monitoring and Control Devices: Transformer monitors, voltage sensors, and other grid control devices help provide a more rapid response to power outages and allow better coordination of the power grid in response to renewable resources and distributed generation.

In-Home Devices: Smart thermostats can be configured to save energy during peak loads, high-energy prices, or changes in renewable energy production. Thermostats manage up to 40% of household energy use, and with proper controls and programming, can save 10% to 30% per year in heating and cooling costs, a total of over $300 per average home or over $25 billion per year in the U.S. (data from EIA). In-home energy displays inform customers of their energy usage and cost in real time and can communicate urgent messages from the utility. These have been shown to save an additional 5% of electricity use or over $4 billion per year. Load control switches can be connected to pool pumps, electric water heaters, and other loads, saving an additional several percent of energy usage.

Electric Vehicle Integration: Electric and plug-in hybrid vehicle connection stations support safe delivery of power to vehicles (which can draw as much as five homes) and the Smart Grid network provides the communications required to coordinate smart charging during off-peak hours to avoid overwhelming the grid during peak charging times.

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