Since Benjamin Franklin had discovered this extremely amazing phenomenon called electricity in 1752, this field is enhancing day by day. Electricity is considered one of the basic human needs and without electricity, well you know how it would be! Whichever part of the world you’re situated in, you’re able to read this article just because you have electricity. The often taken-granted electricity has a vast set of complex processes prior to reaching your socket.
So what basically is an electrical grid?
It could be simply said as a network of power producers to consumers interlinked through various transmission and distribution lines.
Well, is it that simple? Not really!
The electric grid is considered to be one of the highly complex networks sprawling through various countries and continents. A set of engineers and systems constantly monitor and forecast the load so that grid is always stable and balanced. A fault in the grid if not properly monitored can cause huge economical and human losses.
What does a smarter grid imply?
Smart grid integrates various technologies like IT, automation, wireless communication, artificial intelligence, etc for monitoring and operating the power grid in a more reliable manner. It ensures that in real-time load matches demand and implement ways to curtail the load otherwise. They can identify the losses and alert to take the required actions in a more rapid way.
But why exactly do we need a smarter grid?
The recent developments and an extensive rise in demand call for a grid that is smarter and reliable compared to traditional ones. The transportation sector is completely moving to an ‘E’ way; Electric cars, scooters, and much more. And renewables are gaining more exposure day by day. With the boom of climate change and its consequences, these actions are very vital. If the grids don’t evolve eventually then that definitely would hinder these.
Besides, the problems like brownouts and blackouts create manifold concerns. A recent blackout in Texas that happened during winter when the need for heating systems tremendously increased is an example where the grid failed. Indian blackouts of 2012 where almost 600 million people were affected show us the need and importance of having a reliable grid operation.
How is a smart grid different from a traditional grid?
From the mode of operation to the benefits, the smart grid possesses a multitude of features.
- Real-time monitoring: The entire grid is being monitored at all times due to the presence of sensors. This can help in easily identifying and rectifying the faults as soon as possible.
- Enhanced energy management: Through a set of computer-aided energy management systems, it would be easier to analyze networks in real-time and study functions like power flow, power factor, etc
- Dynamic pricing: Traditional pricing schemes do not offer different prices for peak time and off-peak time. Through dynamic pricing schemes, consumers can shift to the time of usage to reduce cost
- Automated: Operations in smart grid are automated; with the presence of various sensors, wireless communication, artificial intelligence. Fault analysis, voltage control, etc will be operated automatically rather than manually. This makes the grid more stable
- Incentives for consumers: Through various schemes under demand response like Time of use (TOU) pricing, Critical peak pricing (CTP), etc, consumers are given incentives if they reduce their usage at peak times
- Bi-directional: Contrary to the vertical structure of grids prevalent, smart grids are bi-directional. Information and energy flow to the consumers and from the consumers too.
Apart from all these smart grids are decentralized and comes with a lot of other features.
Do we have challenges to tackle?
Obviously! From technical to socio-economical, the challenges associated with implementing a smart grid are many. Technical challenges include problems due to the current ageing grid infrastructure, cybersecurity, energy storage concerns, data management, communication issues etc. Even if the technical challenges are met, there underlie economic as well as social challenges. When it comes to consumers they may question data privacy which is a major issue. The lack of awareness may also create a barrier among consumers. Smart grid involves high capital investment and power theft could be another concern.
Amidst the challenges present, countries across the globe are on a voyage to transform this ageing grid. Wide research activities are happening and various methodologies are being implemented and tested. Through the joint efforts of Governments, organizations, and utilities many socio-economic issues are being solved.
This process may not be an overnight one, yet we can hope that in near future we would be able to experience a smarter grid!