Smart Grid Solutions
Smart Grid is a critical and much needed enhancement to electrical infrastructure (spanning Generation, Transmission, Distribution to Customer location), being taken up or considered by Electric Utilities across the world. In simple terms, Smart Grid overlays existing electrical infrastructure with – three layers: Field Layer consisting of number of field level SMART meters, sensors and controllers that are networked for data communications, control and management on top of underlying electrical infrastructure; Secure Communication Layer that consists of multiple network ‘segments’, connecting field devices Home Area Network/Network Area Network/Backhaul Network; AND Enterprise IT Layer consists of enterprise IT applications (MDMS, MDAS, …) with large databases, running on reliable servers (from HP/IBM/…) in Utility Data Center.
These three layers combine together to provide all key stakeholders at the Utility, Power Producers, and Customers – “live and real-time visibility, control and management” of the underlying electrical infrastructure. While these layers may consist of several hardware and software products, they all need to ‘integrate together’ to form a SINGULAR SMART GRID SYSTEM.
Why Energy Conservation/Demand Response/Load Curtailment?
A key question often heard is – why reduce the demand when there is no ‘power shortage’ now? Well, are we sure that we have enough resources to ‘power up’ the constantly increasing demand for power, in the coming years/decades, without impacting our world, rather without deteriorating the environment further? We borrow this world from ‘our children’, and we owe it to them to return in as ‘good a condition as possible’!
The world as we know today depends heavily on ‘non-renewable’ energy sources such as coal, gas and oil, mostly used for energy and transportation. Since the alternatives in transportation that use ‘renewables’ are far from market ready, it is imperative for each consumer to consider their ‘share of responsibility’ as part of a larger goal of “energy conservation”. There is no better time than now, to take up “energy conservation” as every one’s “collective responsibility”.
In countries where there is perennial shortage of power, it makes more sense to produce this ‘greenest’ of energy, that doesn’t cost any to generate, transmit or distribute. How can a consumer not demonstrate their part in the ‘collective responsibility’ by participating in voluntary energy conservation, and use simple no-cost, low to medium cost solutions!
Support for Time of Use (TOU) Rates
AMI enables two-way flow of information between the meters and the utility, enabling active monitoring of energy usage, and convey and help implement Time of Use (TOU) rates. Smart Grid strives to ‘flatten’ the peak demand, and implementing TOU rates is a good way to reduce peak demand. In some utilities, critical peak rates can be up to 100 times the off-peak rates, leading the consumer to be ‘more aware’ of the difference in ‘energy supply’ conditions.
With fine grain monitoring using Smart Grid, a Utility may define several peak periods, 6/10/12, that may vary from customer to customer, depending on the usage pattern.
In the present scenario, utilities know about power outages at customer location, only through customer phone calls. Small number of calls mean lesser the outage and many calls mean larger the outage. Service personnel are dispatched to look into ‘common set’ of issues, and resolve the problem.
With Smart Grid, the smart meter can detect power outage and inform back in real time, providing the outage location and lot more technical data than what the service personnel typically had. This feature gives the ability to fix the on-site problem, but also assess any longer term actions needed on the electric infrastructure, or multiple problems happening simultaneously.
Smart Meters have the ability to Connect (activate) a customer service or Disconnect (deactivate), avoiding typical “truck roll”, where a field service rep had to visit the customer location and ‘work’ directly with the on-site meter. This facility greatly improves customer satisfaction, by being able to respond to a request ‘online’, without having to set up appointment for field visit.
It is important for the Utilities to ‘assess’ where they stand with respect to modernization/upgradation. Smart Grid Maturity Model is defined by SEI of Carnegie Melon University that helps utilities, and can offer tremendous insight into the progress and help set up medium to long term goals and expectations, for the sake of management and consumers.
NeoSilica Smart Grid Solutions : Smart Grid | Peak Demand | Open Standards | Using AMI | Smart Grid Security
While Smart Grid is getting more popular, over the past 5 years, there is also confusion about the definition of “Smart Grid”. At Social Engineering level, Smart Grid may simply address – how we reduce the need for power – despite the increasing consumer demand!
According to Wikipedia – a Smart Grid is an electrical grid that uses information and communications technology to gather and act on information, such as information about the behaviors of suppliers and consumers, in an automated fashion to improve the efficiency, reliability, economics, and sustainability of the production and distribution of electricity. Or simply put – an integrated system of electric equipment and operating controls, with the application of advanced Information and Communication Technologies.
Core elements of Smart Grid are Smart Meters that are deployed in the field, at customer premises, and also on electrical infrastructure (like transformers, feeders and substations), where they all can communicate back to the backend Utility servers, in near real time or on-demand. Using this active system, Smart Grid presents a real-time power flow analysis of the distribution grid, giving many intelligent options to power engineers, engineering designers, and their management.
Peak Demand Reduction
In the telecom field, decades ago, sometimes when the circuits were busy, we used to get a ‘busy signal’ when we dialed. There is no such concept with electric power, of ‘busy signal’ when you turn on an electric switch. As a result, utilities incur maximum costs in estimating and meeting the (ever increasing) ‘peak demand’ of consumers, using peaking plants and providing x% higher than estimated peak.
Smart Grid offers many methods to ‘flatten’ the peak demand, such as:
a) Bring ‘awareness’ of the increasing demand (consumer, neighborhood or city) to the consumer
b) Implement TOU (Time of Use) rates with higher charges for peak usage compared to off-peak
c) Implement active Demand Response to tune specific energy devices (reducing AC settings) into ‘load shedding’
d) Increase insight into consumer use patterns to the Utility, at fine granular level
While different elements of this “Smart Grid” existed for many years, their scope changed dramatically with the need for high degree of ‘integration’ to form a seamless ‘ecosystem’, using standardization and intermediaries. The ‘ecosystem’ of Smart Grid is transforming the distribution system into a Smart Distribution System, that will be reliable and ensure demand reduction during peak times to help reduce the need for peaking plants and cope up with increasing supply demands in the future.
As systems evolve, open standards play a major role, to ensure ‘interoperability’, security and a uniform ecosystem. Key standards are: IEC 61968 – CIM/Distribution Management, IEC 62351 – Security, etc.
Using AMI for more functions
As meters are deployed in the field and connected to the backend over an “AMI” (Automated Metering Infrastructure), the same network can also be utilized by the Utility for advanced functions such as ‘Distribution Automation (DA)’ which consist of – automatic monitoring of feeders and transformers, Outage Management Systems and fault isolation, EV integration and Voltage Conservation.
Smart Grid Security
When such a critical ecosystem is running over a widely distributed network, across many boundaries, connecting system of systems, it is critical to ensure ‘security’ for each segment, within the (M2M) machine-to-machine areas, wide area (backhaul), consumer access, and in the backend data center. If typical internet security is complex, consider billions of devices connecting and combining to create a ‘seamless ecosystem’, the complexity of designing security can be appreciated.