The Smart Grid: The Grid of the Future

Since the power grid emerged in the late 19th century, life has been a lot easier for many around the globe. However, the demand for more reliable, quality, and efficient energy turned out to be a pressing matter. Hence, the conventional grid system had to go through a reformation to become a smart grid system.

A smart grid is an electrical network that utilizes digital communications technology to enable a two-way flow of power and information. Due to the presence of smart sensors integrated into the smart grid system, data related to electrical distribution, consumer usage, marketing, metrology, and so on can be collected. This data can be further analyzed in order to identify the optimal solutions in a variety of applications, including energy efficiency, customer behavior, customer services, marketing strategy, environmental protection, and many more.


The Need for Smart Grid Infrastructure

It has been over a century since the grid system was introduced to the world and has served as a pillar of the economy for nations all over the globe. However, the past half a century brought about new challenges to the world that made the traditional grid system look ‘dumb’. Contemporary challenges like security threats, the demand for reliable quality energy, the calls for energy efficiency, and environmental concerns forced the need for the enhancement of the traditional grid system.

The conventional energy grid system is fundamentally built as an electromechanical infrastructure. It consists of sets of power system components that are interconnected with each other allowing the flow of electricity by using extensive transmission lines. So, what’s the problem with that? The problem is, there is no way for these mechanical devices to communicate with each other, which is something inefficient.

What else? The conventional energy grid is designed in a way that energy is produced at a single location to be distributed to different locations using transmission lines. And what would be the problem with that? This centralized nature of power generation makes it impossible to easily integrate alternative energy sources into the system.

On top of that, even though it was possible to integrate sensors on the transmission cables, it wasn’t feasible to use as many sensors as needed because the transmission lines would strain the mechanical infrastructure. Therefore, a minimal number of sensors were used. The problem here is, the lower the presence of sensors, the less information is collected. This makes it challenging to detect changes and troubleshoot automatically. Hence, fixing problems takes time. Not to mention, inspection and monitoring are conducted manually.

For all the above reasons, coupled with the growing demand for reliable, quality, and efficient energy, the grid power system was sentenced to inevitable advancement. Therefore, at the dawn of the 21st century, the smart grid was introduced.


Features of Smart Grids

The smart grid is a more modern version of the traditional power grid that provides more reliable and secure electrical services. The most important feature of the smart grid is that it is capable of keeping an eye on its own operation, consumers’ demand, and real-time updates of any changes. Simply put, everything on the smart grid system is just smart. Smart electric networks, smart meters, smart sensors, smart substations, smart control appliances, smart monitoring systems, smart analytics, and smart reporting system are all present.

Smart grids offer enhanced connectivity of devices and appliances, which makes it possible to remotely control and self-regulate operations. Unlike the conventional electrical grid system, smart grids allow providers, distributors, and consumers of energy to communicate with one another.

The smart grid system has a decentralized power generation and distribution system. It offers the opportunity to add alternate sources of energy besides the primary power plant. In addition, power can be distributed from numerous plants and substations using smart grid technology in order to help balance the energy load, reduce peak period pressures, and minimize the number of interruptions of services.

The most interesting part is, multiple sensors are positioned on the wires of the smart grid infrastructure. This offers the biggest advantages against the conventional grid infrastructure. Sensors allow real-time data collection and detection of changes in the entire operation of the smart grid system. In the case of network faults, smart grids are capable of detecting defects and automatically self-heal. Since the energy flow and usage can be tracked all the way down the chain from the moment it leaves the power plant until it reaches the customer. Because of this, energy providers can have all the necessary information to enhance services and increase energy efficiency. 

When it comes to the monitoring of operations, there is less worry. The smart grid system can keep an eye on itself. Without the need for human involvement, it can monitor its own operations, including distributing energy, balancing power loads, and troubleshooting outages.


In the Not-Too-Distant Future 

A report entitled “Future of the Smart Grid Industry,” published by Frost and Sullivan in 2016, revealed that investments in the global smart grid are anticipated to increase rapidly. However, the transition to a smarter global smart grid won’t likely be completed by 2025, but it will likely have significant advancements in grid automation, demand-side management, and big data analytics.

Smart grids are known to provide a reliable and efficient power supply. This is an appealing feature that will also stimulate technology to grow as it can the potential to answer the growing environmental concerns of the present day. In addition, the growth of the smart grid infrastructure will be fueled by the increasing demand and use of electric cars on a global scale.

According to a recent report by Precedence Research, the global market for smart grids is expected to reach USD 162.4 billion by 2030, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 18.2 percent from 2021 to 2030. The report also indicated that the favorable regulatory frameworks of the governments of various countries that promote the implementation of smart grids are what largely drive the global smart grid market.

In the distant future, the world will have an even smarter global smart grid. In the not-too-distant future, however, the smart grid will have more global coverage.



Photo: NicoElNino/Shutterstock


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