Smart Grid

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What is the ‘smart grid’ and how can it help?

The ‘smart grid’ is a term for the collection of ideas, technologies, economic models, operating practices and more that would allow for a more efficient and more reliable electrical grid.

(Although renewables like wind and solar are part of this schema, improving these technologies is not considered advancing the smart grid– rather, for researchers interested in the grid, the challenge is to incorporate and interface these technologies with existing infrastructure).

The ‘smart grid’ would be characterized by more distributed power generation, with an emphasis on renewables and sustainable technologies, as well as a strong emphasis on information on both supply- and demand-side. In addition, inexpensive energy storage capacity would be increased. Distributed generation would emphasize the incorporation of local renewable energy sources, particularly solar and wind (which can be relatively easily incorporated into houses and local communities). This could provide both a more reliable local power supply, while also helping make the transition to a clean and sustainable energy economy.

One promising focus is the idea of using two-way communication between utilities and smart devices/appliances as a demand response system. In the conventional model, devices and appliances are ‘oblivious’ to the needs of the electrical grid; they take the same power out regardless of whether or not there is an oversupply or shortfall of electricity. In a smart grid, devices and appliances could be equipped with smart technologies that could communicate with computers on the supply side, which would provide information about the current needs of the electrical grid. During supply shortfalls, a smart device/appliance would be able to reduce its power temporarily until demand and supply stabilize.

Another innovation that would feature in the smart grid would be ‘smart meterage’ technology. Conventionally, meterage technologies often record only very basic information about cumulative electricity consumption. Until the 1980s, it was necessary for utility agents to manually check every meter at the end of the month in order to compute a customer’s electricity bill. Although some utilities have adopted more sophisticated telemetric systems, the system is still inefficient. Smart meters could enable real-time communication between the utility companies and the consumers, and could allow consumers to monitor their electricity usage. Smart meterage could also enable companies to implement dynamic pricing models, charging customers more for electricity during times of peak demand and less during oversupply periods. With smart meterage and communication between utilities and customers, consumers could vary their usage to take advantage of cheaper electricity during times of lower demand, providing economic pressure to equalize power consumption throughout the day. This could improve reliability as well as helping drive down the need to use peaker plants to compensate for high demand.

What is the CEI’s contribution?

Research Highlights:

Professor Shwetak Patel is the head of the UbiComp lab, which works with applications of ubiquitous computing technologies. UbiComp has developed an electrical sensing technology called ElectriSense, which allows for the monitoring of the power consumption of all devices/utilities from a single location. The sensor can monitor the electrical noise from devices switching on and off, as well as that naturally generated during their operation. Using machine learning, this technology can then infer which devices are ‘on’ or ‘off,’ and estimate the amount of power being used by each device. This technology could help customers visualize and understand their power usage better, and make more informed decisions in order to reduce their overall levels of consumption.

Other Focuses:

CEI’s smart grid work has to do primarily with the creation and optimization of statistical/mathematical models for physical and economical characteristics of the power grid. Work done by the Renewable Energy Analysis Lab (REAL) focuses on the challenges of integrating renewable energy sources into a smart grid while maintaining current levels of power and reliability, and developing mathematical models that can help characterize the economic and physical impact of a smarter grid. In particular, REAL focuses on the ‘flexibility’ needed to cope with the variability of wind and solar power. Other work done by CEI faculty involves the creation and optimization of mathematical models for grid topologies, as well as consumer behavior. This work can help utility companies better optimize their economic and physical security.

More resources:

Need 4 Grid Simulation- Try your hand at constructing an electrical grid