Intelligent Grids Power a Smarter Future
by Meir Shargal
Regardless of who you ask, the forecast is often the same: in the next two decades, the world’s demand for energy will essentially double. Simultaneously, CO2 regulations and reduction goals — be it for utilities or consumers worldwide — will also explode. Smart grids, which use information technology to help deliver, manage, and monitor electricity for utilities, could provide the capabilities we’ll need.
The International Energy Agency estimated in its Energy Technology Perspectives 2010 report that the global deployment of smart grids can help reduce CO2 emissions by between 0.9 and 2.2 gigatonnes annually by 2050, which is equivalent to the annual emissions of between 300 and 730 mid-sized power plants.1
If you use information-enabled energy, by turning the data you collect from the grid into intelligence, you can create more power with fewer resources.
However, while many are embracing the concept of smart grids, issues ranging from managing renewable energy to ensuring high levels of security still need to be resolved. For example, currently the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology is “taking aggressive action to respond to this critical national need” of developing smart grid standards.2
Energy from different sources Another issue is the integration of renewable energy, such as solar and wind power, into a utility’s main grid. With traditional operations, such as coal-fired plants, utilities built their systems to manage reliable, consistent energy that comes from one source. With renewable energy, those resources are intermittent and never guaranteed. They also enter into a utility’s grid at different places, unlike the traditional single source, such as coal being burned at the utility plant.
You need both eyes and ears to be able to control when to take advantage of renewable energy. Incorporating grid management is key when you move from centralized generation, such as coal plants, to distributed, renewable energy generation. To create a smart grid, utilities basically combine their electric grid with a communications network that, through sensors and other devices, gives them intelligence on what is happening on their grid. They can then use that intelligence to make energy decisions and enable consumers to better manage their power usage.
How a utility will manage the large amount of data these smart grids generate is another key issue. Traditionally, utilities generate bills based on monthly meter readings. With smart meters in place and linked to the grid, each meter can send a reading every 10 minutes. Add that new influx of meter data to the flood of data sent by sensors and other devices on the smart grid network, and utilities risk being swamped by a huge wave of data.
To achieve the greatest efficiencies, much less ensure systems aren’t overwhelmed, utilities will need to increase their back office systems’ scalability and reliability. Then they have to integrate that data with their legacy systems in order to turn it into intelligence.
A new level of risk
Security is another concern when creating smart grids. As utilities link their traditional energy grids to communications networks, new vulnerabilities emerge on transmission and distribution networks that need to be protected from cyber attacks. This presents a completely new level of risk that utilities need to consider when building their smart grids.
A smart grid will vary from utility to utility. Each will focus on different requirements and take advantage of different technologies. To succeed, however, they will all have to be smart, secure, and sustainable.
Today CSC provides industry-relevant business solutions and services to help execute smart meter and smart grid programs worldwide for utilities who together supply energy to more than 58 million customers. For information on CSC’s perspective on how smart grids will enable the new energy economy, go to www.csc.com/smartgridPOV.
Meir Shargal is CSC’s Smart Utility practice lead.