The Future of Energy: Smart Grids

The Future of Energy: Smart Grids

May 28, 2014

Benefits of Smart Grids

Smart grid technologies are providing numerous benefits to consumers and utility companies, such as improved security and efficiency. This kind of technology is also allowing utility companies to know in advance when there is a power outage, rather than wait for customers to report.

These communications systems help to supervise the power grids and regulate the flow of power. Building fiber-optic infrastructure to network substations with operation centers and power generating facilities allows for increased cost savings and improved internal communications.

Chattanooga Tennessee’s municipal utility, EPB, according to SmartGridNews, has been cited for having North America’s most robust smart grid.

EPB’s smart grid fiber-optic system, which was made possible by a $111.6 million federal stimulus grant, serves more than 172,000 homes and businesses in the Greater Chattanooga area. Among the benefits of the EPB smart grid are smart meters and switches that allow EPB to monitor the power supply and demand, and move power around the grid quickly. The system makes it possible for EPB to quickly bypass damaged areas so it can continue to provide electricity when power lines are down.

Case in point, says David Wade, EPB CEO and executive VP, during a heavy storm in 2013 that caused downed power lines and caused brief power outages to 3,500 customers, the smart grid prevented another 8,000 customers from losing electricity at all.

Smart Grids Save Money & Prevent Power Outages

Another instance occurred as a tree took down a 46,000 volt line serving three substations and 11,258 customers. Wade stated that the smart grid re-routed power and prevented more than 10,000 customers from losing their power. EPB estimates their smart grid saves between $50-$60 million dollars a year in prevented power outages and lost productivity.

The U.S. Department of Energy has estimated the cost of power outages for business and residential consumers is at least $150 billion annually. Self-healing grids dramatically reduce those costs, by carrying and directing the flow of high-voltage electricity even under the worst weather conditions. They quickly and automatically respond to system conditions to reduce outage durations or prevent them altogether.

According to AFL Global, a provider of fiber-optic components, “…smart grids and other related technologies, offer utility companies a range of benefits including, monitoring power on the line, moving power to avoid outages and brownouts, interacting with substations and managing regular communications.”

Future of the Electric Power Industry

Smart grid projects are being implemented in other parts of the United States. Pacific Gas & Electric is working on a smart grid improvement project in San Francisco, that “includes PG&E’s outage detection program, which can check individual meters to determine whether or not power has been restored; “self-healing” circuits that significantly reduce the average length of an outage by re-routing power flows; and high-tech monitoring equipment on the transmission system that provides early warning of potential problems so grid operators can take corrective actions before widespread outages occur,” says

As we can see, smart grids are part of the future of the electric power industry, allowing it to improve operations, increase revenue, decrease emissions and provide more consistent service to customers. Fiber-optic networks and smart grids also increase the security of the grid, a critical consideration for us all.