Saturday, October 23, 2010

Do We Need A Smart Grid For Our Electricity?...

How much do we depend on electricity?  Could we lose our electrical grid for 6 months??

"It reaches into your home, your bedroom, and climbs right up into the lamp next to your pillow. It's there while you sleep, and it's waiting for you in the morning. Taken in its entirety, the grid is a machine, the most complex machine ever made." The Grid, Phillip Schewe
Our electrical generation system is outdated.  It was never envisioned to support a technological nation like we have now in the United States.  It was built haphazardly over years piecemeal.  It is owned by a hodgepodge of private utility companies that do not have a unified national plan of cooperation.  It is ripe for sabotage and terrorism.  It needs to be modernized, digitized and protected from events that could destroy it and put it out of circulation for months, creating a national calamity.

Yet it is an amazing system.  Here is a description of it by Dr. Schewe, a physicist and author of the book titled, The Grid:
When I flip a switch at my house in Washington, D.C., I’m dipping into a giant pool of electricity called the PJM Interconnection. PJM is one of several regional operators that make up the Eastern grid; it covers the District of Colum bia and 13 states, from the Mississippi River east to New Jersey and all the way down to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It’s an electricity market that keeps supply and demand almost perfectly matched—every day, every minute, every fraction of a second—among hundreds of producers and distributors and 51 million people, via 56,350 miles of high-voltage transmission lines.****
Although this electrical grid has served us well for 50 years, it has not been adequately maintained. But that is not the whole picture. It also needs to be made to work with new green energy, incorporating, wind and solar power. Making the grid smarter means that it will give customers more control over how much electricity they use. They will become active consumers of electricity instead of passive ones.**

Right now, there are electrical grids on six continents. The plan that some envision to eventually unite the grid in Europe to reach across the Mediterranean Sea into Africa, thus enabling it to carry solar power from the Sahara desert to Scandinavia. The US grid carries 1,000,000 megawatts of power. This grid first began in Manhattan, thanks to the pioneering work of Thomas Edison and Nicolai Tesla. After this, feverish work began to spread electrical power throughout the United States. Yet even with all that effort by 1920 only 10% of the American public had electricity.*** We use 40% of our energy to make electricity. In an excellent article on the electrical grid in National Geographic, it explains how there is still no national central control of the grid. It is operated from three regional centers, the Eastern, Western and Texas Interconnections. Here is a map that demonstrates how power is spread in the United States:

In this next map you can see how quickly energy usage is rising in the United States in general.

In this map you see the proposed smart grid projects the Obama administration has proposed.

The average age of power transformers in service is 40 years, which also happens to be the average lifespan of this equipment. Combine the crying need for maintenance with a shrinking workforce, and we may find that the 2005 blackout that affected parts of Canada and the northeastern United States might have been a dress rehearsal for what's to come. Deregulation and restructuring of the industry created downward pressure on recruitment, training and maintenance, and the bill is now coming due. Edwin Hill,

This is an analysis of the Obama efforts by a group that specializes in this issue.
One of the most important things that will come out of this new investment is not doubt the installation of more smart meters. About 18 million of those, in fact. Because they are electronic and can communicate with the grid, they can be used to implementvariable electricity rates (aka time-of-use rates) to encourage people to shift demand from peaks to times when supply isn't so strained. One you have smart meters, you can also start using smart appliances that can automate most of the process of shifting electricity demand...  But that's not all of course. Other projects that got funded will work on improving the efficiency of transformers, electric substations, power lines, etc. But if you look at the list of projects, it's pretty obvious that the emphasis was put on smart meters. It's a logical first step, since most of the demand-reduction schemes will require them to work.*****
Once these smart meters have been installed in the homes of the consumers, they become intelligently active in the preservation of electricity.  What is a smart meter?  The most precise coverage of a smart grid can be read here, a study titled, The Many Meanings of a '"Smart Grid," by M. Granger Morgan, Jay Apt, Lester B. Lave, Marija D. Ilic, Marvin Sirbu, and Jon M. Peha.  This is what a Carnegie Mellon Electricity Industry Center publication had to say about it:
Meters that can be read automatically, without sending a meter reader out once a month. This can be done in several different ways: with a signal that is sent back to the transformer or substation over the power line (power line carrier) and then on to the utility in some other way; by a radio link in the local neighborhood; or by a van that drives around the neighborhood and asks each meter to give an automatic readout, via radio links. Systems like this are already widely deployed by many power companies, and generally pay for themselves through reduced meter reading costs.******
These smart meters being digital, will in turn connect to smart appliances. Smart appliances will be the next wave which will revolutionize the home and make it a smart home.  These units from Whirlpool are the vanguard.  They can communicate with the smart meter and be programmed to do their work at non-peak hours.  This is called time-of-use electricity rates.  If one million of these units were used in this manner, it would reduce the need for six coal power plants.**  One million of these units are expected to be produced by 2011.

Cisco's Contribution to the Smart Grid

This is where things have to go, if we are truly going to become energy independent.  There is an influx of new electric cars just around the corner.  The gird has to be able to withstand all those new drains on its power.  This New York Times article covers in detail most of the  non-financial hurdles that must be overcome to make this new grid.  But we MUST do it.  To continue to be the great country we are, we cannot ignore our infrastructures.  We have ignored our grid long enough.  It is time it graduates to the digital age.


green energy said...

thanks for the information! I think that we need to start making changes so that things will be better with how we consume and use our energy. There needs to be a change. Green energy is the way to go and I know that if we all do our part we are all going to have a happier planet and be happy ourselves because we are making a difference.

PlusUltraTech said...

I could not agree more! Do you have any specific suggestions?