Integrating The Energy Grid: Smart Grid Advantages And Challenges

Over the past few decades we’ve gotten really good at building secure, robust, scalable, smart computer networks. We’­­ve mastered quality-of-service to prioritize certain types of data and we understand rules-based routing. Not only can we track users by sign-on and IP addresses, but we can also validate authorizations for access against LDAPs. We’ve begun to look at enterprise architecture in a more holistic way, moving past the business silos so common in the 1980s and 1990s.
Then there’s our utility infrastructure.
U.S. utility grids are arguably the most advanced invention of the past century. Their technology and ingenuity surpass the smart phone, moon landing and even the Internet. What would negatively impact our lives more – losing power or water, or losing the Internet? (Let’s not include the 15- to 25-year-olds in this survey).
Yet, our nation’s utility grids remain stuck in the 1960s. Aging generation facilities, outdated power stations and substations, and above-ground utility lines are in a constant state of repair. We have limited visibility into real-time information, let alone predictive information. We always wait until there’s an outage or failure. There’s widespread realization that a smart grid is a competitive advantage we need as a nation, yet has resulted in few accepted standards. The destination is still so far away and, honestly, it sometimes seems like we have yet to even begin the journey.
Perhaps the most widely accepted route follows the path already taken in IP networking. Let’s not reinvent the wheel when designing our smart grid. We can leverage the advancements already in place by looking at the utility grid in the same way we look at enterprise technology infrastructure. If we use the same architectural standards and benchmarks – the same principals of governance and compliance – our journey to a smart grid nation could be halfway over.
The Benefits
Our electric grid has experienced shocks to the system never envisioned by the early power-generation pioneers. Power flowed one way, and only one way. Generation stations sent power to the distribution grid, which residences and businesses consumed. But today’s power hardly flows so simply. Now we have home solar arrays, electric cars and home energy storage systems. Our grid must now handle the two-way flow of power. Our grid must be smarter.
There’s a growing acceptance that we must manage this reality in careful ways, minimizing the location and quantity of these direct generation (DG) locations to 20% per zone. But even this isn’t a universally accepted axiom.
Utilities are widely accepting of smart grid benefits. The ability to see near-real-time data on demand and energy flow is net-new information. However, historically, the meter reader would report monthly, or every other month, on meter-read data. Not only was real-time inconceivable, but so was increasing the amount of data generated by cycle reads. This slow, archaic way of reading meters isn’t up to speed with today’s digital economy.
But smart grids are.
Today, smart meters are typically read up to four times an hour, or every 15 minutes. This turns a single data point from the 1980s into 3,000 data sets today! And that’s just per meter, per month! Where do we put this data, and what can we do with this information other than drowning in it? (In other words, how can we take a sip of water form a fire hose?)
Consumer Benefits
In addition how a smart grid benefits utilities, it provides countless benefits to us as consumers. First, a smart grid smoothes out the flow of power, nearly eliminating brownouts, blackouts and surges.
Second, consumers now have more control over their power usage. Home energy management systems (HEMS) can adjust usage so you can schedule your energy-intensive tasks, like laundry or charging a hybrid vehicle, during off-peak times. Energy is much cheaper when electricity is less in demand. On top of that, it also facilitates quicker troubleshooting when things do go wrong.
And of course, the benefits to the environment are well documented. Better energy management means less carbon emissions, cleaner waterways and less reliance on fossil fuels.
The Integration Challenge
In time, we will have a smarter grid. What remains today is an IT challenge ­– an integration challenge. Legacy systems can’t simply be taken offline just because there are better options out there. Advanced Metering Infrastructures (AMI) can’t simply be slapped on to an aging infrastructure. We need a smarter solution for integrating the disparate systems and technologies. We can propel yesterday’s analog, manual meter reads (ones with limited deployed technologies) to the smart systems now coming online.
It’s All About the Data
TxMQ has partnered with IBM to pioneer a Smart Grid Smart Business solution (SmartGridSB) for utility companies to better manage the growing flood of data generated today. Better dashboards, mobile connectivity and more actionable information at your fingertips gives today’s utility managers the power to deliver the results consumers insist on and public-utility commissions demand.
TxMQ’s smart consulting and staff augmentation solution teams are trained in complex integration challenges and strategic consulting. We can bridge the gap between AMI and smart grids by demonstrating complex ROI calculations for end-of-life equipment requiring newer alternatives.
Call or write today to learn how you can partner with TxMQ to deliver our SmartGridSB solution to your users and customers.
(Image from Oran Viriyincy)