The true measure of an electric grid is its performance. Reliability, power quality, the number and duration of outages, and average restoration times if power is lost are what really matters to customers.
A Smart Grid is an electrical transmission and distribution system that uses technologies like digital computing and communications to improve the performance of a grid, while enabling the features and applications that directly benefit the consumer1.
A Smart Grid is not an all-or-nothing proposition; there are gradations of “smartness.” As the electrical grid is modernized with advanced technologies, it becomes smarter. Given the diversity in electrical systems and the wide range of available Smart Grid technologies, there is no one method to measure the smartness of an electrical system.
What matters is performance.
The basic operation of Smart Grid technologies is designed to give the utility company and the consumer (residential, commercial, and industrial) more control over the electricity supply.
For utility companies and other grid operators, this means acquiring better situational awareness to know what is happening on the grid and to better manage it. On the consumer side, this means more information about—and thus greater control over—the charges that appear on individuals’ electric bills.
Smart Grid and Power Outages
In much the same way as new information and communications technologies are reshaping how we work, learn, and stay in touch with one another, these same technologies are being applied to the electrical grid, giving utilities new ways to manage the flow of power.
By applying information and communications technologies and basic computing power to the electrical grid, utilities can not only minimize the footprint of the outage, but also identify those affected, shunt around downed power lines to increase public safety, and enable faster restoration of services.
For example, when disturbances are detected in the power flow, modern circuit breakers can automatically open or close to help isolate a fault. Much like a motorist using his GPS to find an alternate route around an accident, this equipment can automatically route power around the problem area allowing electricity to continue to flow to the customer.
Circuit breakers and other electrical devices in the field have the ability to communicate their status to help utilities identify potential problem areas, including outages or conditions that might result in an outage. Coupling this kind of automated activity with feedback from advanced electric meters would help restore service to the greatest number of customers even before the first truck rolls out of the utility service shop.
1 The source for Smart Grid in the U.S. is Title XIII of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA, PL 110-140). Applications described in EISA include demand response, energy efficiency, consumer control, smart appliances, renewables, energy storage, and electric vehicles. www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-110hr6enr/pdf/BILLS-110hr6enr.pdf.