Friday, October 9, 2009

The Smart Grid

In my earlier postings I have pointed out that the Small Group In Opposition to MAPP do not even understand the rudimentary basics of electricity. It came to me that I needed to switch into a more mentoring mode and explain how not only MAPP, TrAIL or PATH, but many other similar transmission projects across this nation came about. I should also add that this upgrade in the electrical grid structure is not unique to the United States but is also going on right now in Australia, Canada, China, and European Union.

I want to start off with a quote from the U.S. Department of Energy:

“Our nation’s electric power infrastructure that has served us so well for so long, also known as “the grid,” is rapidly running up against its limitations. Our lights may be on, but systemically, the risks associated with relying on an often overtaxed grid grow in size, scale and complexity every day. From national challenges like power system security to these global in nature such as climate change, our near-term agenda is formidable. Some might even say history making.”

In 2009 President Barack Obama asked the United States Congress, “To act without delay to pass legislation that included doubling alternative energy production in the next three years and build a new electricity “Smart Grid.” As a result the Department of Energy has been charged with orchestrating the wholesale modernization of our nation’s electrical grid.

Currently Smart Grid companies represent one of the largest and fastest growing sectors in the “Cleantech” market. It currently receives more than half of the venture capital investments.

A Quick History Lesson:
Today’s alternating current power grid evolved after 1896, based on Nikola Tesla’s designs that he established in 1888. Up to this date, many implementation decisions that are still in use today were made for the first time using the limited emerging technology that was available 120 years ago.

What Is A Grid?
An "electricity grid" is not a single entity but an aggregate of multiple networks and multiple power generation companies with multiple operators employing varying levels of communication and coordination, most of which is manually controlled. Smart grids increase the connectivity, automation and coordination between these suppliers, consumers and networks that perform either long distance transmission or local distribution tasks.

1.Transmission networks move electricity in bulk over medium to long distances, are actively managed, and generally operate from 345kV to 800kV over AC and DC lines.

2.Local networks traditionally moved power in one direction, "distributing" the bulk power to consumers and businesses via lines operating at 132kV and lower.

This paradigm is changing as businesses and homes begin generating more wind and solar electricity, enabling them to sell surplus energy back to their utilities. Modernization is necessary for energy consumption efficiency, real time management of power flows and to provide the bi-directional metering needed to compensate local producers of power. Although transmission networks are already controlled in real time, many in the US and European countries are antiquated by world standards, and unable to handle modern challenges such as those posed by the intermittent nature of alternative electricity generation, or continental scale bulk energy transmission.

What Is A Smart Grid?
A smart grid is an umbrella term that covers modernization of both the transmission and distribution grids. The modernization is directed at a disparate set of goals including facilitating greater competition between providers, enabling greater use of variable energy sources, establishing the automation and monitoring capabilities needed for bulk transmission at cross continent distances, and enabling the use of market forces to drive energy conservation.
Many smart grid features readily apparent to consumers such as smart meters serve the energy efficiency goal. The approach is to make it possible for energy suppliers to charge variable electric rates so that charges would reflect the large differences in cost of generating electricity during peak or off peak periods. Such capabilities allow load control switches to control large energy consuming devices such as hot water heaters so that they consume electricity when it is cheaper to produce.

How Will The Smart Grid Reduce Electrical Demand?
To reduce demand during the high cost peak usage periods, communications and metering technologies inform smart devices in the home and business when energy demand is high and track how much electricity is used and when it is used. To motivate them to cut back use and perform what is called peak curtailment or peak leveling, prices of electricity are increased during high demand periods, and decreased during low demand periods.

Why Is The Smart Grid Essential For Renewable Energy?
Supporters of renewable energy favor smarter grids, because most renewable energy sources are intermittent in nature, depending on natural phenomena (the sun and the wind) to generate power. Thus, any type of power infrastructure using a significant portion of intermittent renewable energy resources must have means of effectively reducing electrical demand by "load shedding" in the event that the natural phenomena necessary to generate power do not occur.

What Is The Major Driving Force?
The major driving forces to modernize current power grids can be divided in four, general categories.

1.Increasing reliability, efficiency and safety of the power grid.

2.Enabling decentralized power generation so homes can be both an energy client and supplier (provide consumers with interactive tool to manage energy usage).

3.Flexibility of power consumption at the client’s side to allow supplier selection (enables distributed generation, solar, wind, biomass).

4.Increase Gross Domestic Product by creating more new, green-collar energy jobs related to renewable energy industry manufacturing, plug-in electric vehicles, solar panel and wind turbine generation, energy conservation construction.

What Is The Smart Grid Going To Be Able To Do?
Before examining particular technologies, a proposal can be understood in terms of what it is being required to do. The governments and utilities funding development of grid modernization have defined the functions required for smart grids. According to the United States Department of Energy's Modern Grid Initiative report, a modern smart grid must:

1.Be able to heal itself
2.Motivate consumers to actively participate in operations of the grid
3.Resist attack
4.Provide higher quality power that will save money wasted from outages
5.Accommodate all generation and storage options
6.Enable electricity markets to flourish
7.Run more efficiently

Now to summarize and bring this information full circle, as I have explained before, you need different transmission lines coming into the electrical distribution regions for the Smart Grid technology to be able to switch to should one source fail. Those who say that MAPP is not needed do not understand the big picture that if this nation’s green energy policies are to be achieved, you need the transmission lines to bring the generation into the electrical distribution regions with the access being controlled by the Smart Grid technology. It is the multiple transmission lines into the electrical distribution regions is what makes the electrical distribution regions consistent and secure being controlled by the Smart Grid technology. For those who are saying that MAPP does not need to be built, I simply ask you to refer back to the national mandated quote from the Department of Energy.

As always I will be glad to answer all intelligent questions should you have any but after this posting, if the Small Group In Opposition to MAPP still does not understand the purpose for MAPP, it is because they don’t want to.

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