Smart Grid Solutions
Rebuilding the electric power system should incorporate the use of smart grid solutions -- information and communications technologies, such as smart meters and high-tech sensors, to isolate problems and bypass them automatically. These technologies allow quicker recovery from extreme weather and other 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 electric grid, giving utilities new ways to manage the flow of power and to expedite restoration efforts.
By integrating information and communications technologies into the electric grid, utilities can not only minimize the extent of an outage, but also immediately identify those impacted, shunt electricity 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 re-route power around the problem area so that electricity continues to flow to other customers.
Smart Grid solutions also enable utilities to deliver more power efficiently, when and where it is needed, and protects the electric grid from cyber-attack.
Microgrids and Energy Storage
When power interruptions occur, microgrids, including energy storage and back-up generation systems, can ensure continued operation of critical facilities.
A microgrid is a localized grouping of electricity generation, energy storage, and electrical loads (anything that uses electricity). Where a microgrid exists, loads are typically also connected to a traditional centralized grid. When the microgrid senses an outage, the microgrid disconnects from the central grid and uses its own generation and storage capabilities to serve the local electrical load. Moreover, in critical situations microgrids can direct power to high priorities.
Microgrid generation resources can include natural gas, wind, rooftop solar panels, diesel or other energy sources.
A microgrid’s multiple generation sources and ability to isolate itself from the larger network during an outage on the central grid ensures highly reliable electric power.
The effectiveness of microgrids is further enhanced through energy storage. Storage systems not only provide backup power while the microgrid’s generation sources are coming online, they can also be used to regulate the quality of the power and protect sensitive systems like hospital equipment that may be vulnerable to power surges during restoration efforts.
Microgrids offer additional advantages. Byproduct heat from generation sources such as microturbines can be used for space heating and water heating, and surplus power from microgrids can be sold to the central grid or stored for later use. In combination with energy storage and energy management systems, microgrids can also provide ancillary services to the broader electric grid such as voltage and frequency regulation. Microgrids also reduce dependence on long distance transmission lines—reducing transmission energy losses.
Also of increasing importance, microgrids can mitigate the effects of cyber-attacks by segmenting the grid around the critical elements of our national infrastructure.
A staple of the data center industry, back-up generators can maintain vital services during general power outages for first responder facilities, traffic signals, gas stations, high-rise elevators in eldercare facilities, and other critical services.
Traditionally, diesel and natural gas generators are used to provide long-term back-up generation. When combined with energy storage such as batteries, motor/generators or flywheels, high quality, continuous power can be provided without disrupting even the most sensitive medical and electronic equipment.
Wiring, Cabling and Electrical Components that Can Stand Up to Storms
For critical equipment, cabling should be used that is resistant to long-term submersion in water, as well as oil and other pollutants potentially present in flood waters that may have an effect on less robust insulation materials. In addition, there are classes of transformers, switches, and enclosures that are designed to be submersible. Initial equipment installation can be more expensive than nonsubmersible equipment, but can pay for itself in subway systems and substation environments that are susceptible to flooding. In addition, “spacer cable” technologies reduce tree caused interruptions.
Relocation or Repositioning of Equipment
Another smart use of rebuilding funds is relocating or repositioning of equipment or power lines. In light of the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy and other recent floods and storms, it is time to evaluate the location of critical infrastructure and identify situations where investing money today will reap benefits by protecting equipment from future storms.
A simple cost-effective idea is to elevate standby generators at sites prone to flooding to higher elevations. This concept is particularly important when installing new equipment and substations.
When smart technologies are in place, power outages can be avoided and lives, homes & businesses protected.
The 400-plus member companies of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association and our staff of experienced engineers and electroindustry experts, spanning more than 50 industry sectors, stand ready to assist industry and government officials at all levels involved in rebuilding “after the storm.”