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Smart Grids 101: Connectivity of the Future

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The Obama administration has included $3.5 billion in grid modernization in its budget for the 2016 fiscal year. On top of that, the smart grid IT market is expected to double by 2024 and the future for implementation of smart grid technology is all but certain, with cities like Austin, Chicago and Sacramento leading the way.

Here’s a bit more about smart grids and how they could improve life as we know it:

Smart Technologies – A Brief History

The formal move toward an intelligent grid started in 2002, when the Electric Power Research Institute proposed a research project called IntelliGrid. Eighteen months later, IntelliGrid Architecture was born and the first smart grid architecture was available for power distribution.

The focus of the new architecture was on the following four areas:

  • Home Area Networks (HAN)
  • Network-side applications, including reactive power control
  • “The future is now” utility functions such as solar photovoltaic power generation
  • Integration of Demand Response that analyzes customer usage

Unsurprisingly, the effort to move to smart grid systems has since become joined at the hip with the Internet. During the September 2014 APEC Energy Ministerial Meeting, Chairman Liu Zhenya from the State Grid Corporation of China (SGCC) called on his peers to produce something called the Internet of Energy (IoE).

It’s a comprehensive strategy that will fully connect smart grids, providing electricity everywhere with utilization managed down to the watt. Future connected smart grids are also expected to have network connectivity, coordinated consolidation and the ability to recover in the event of a system failure.

ICT-Empowered Smart Grids

Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is a concept that describes the interconnectivity between information technology (IT) and telecommunications technologies. Specific deployments of ICT are described by key phrases you’ve probably heard before:

  • Intelligent Bandwidth — Time is money, and people who use their information systems expect a rapid response. Bandwidth is the logical unit of measurement that describes how “fast” data travels across the wire. Smart grid technology can be used to ensure optimal use of bandwidth.
  • Big Data — The phrase “big data” describes inordinately large databases that are used to house millions of records of information, all inter-related to one another, in an effort to produce analytics that improve decision making. The extent of these databases can provide some challenges to traditional power management. Smart grid technology can be used to provide the requisite level of energy to those systems.
  • Internet of Things (IoT) — The idea behind IoT is numerous electronic devices are connected to the Internet. It’s a concept that, at face value, would benefit extensively from the implementation of a smart grid infrastructure, as there will be an excess in energy demand required to fulfill the extent of interconnectivity required.
  • Cloud Computing — The emergence of cloud computing has made it easy for people to use software, operating systems, or even entire infrastructures without purchasing and installing any hardware or software. Of course, the infrastructure required to maintain a cloud that meets consumer demand will also require a dependable energy source. That’s another reason for smart grid technology.

The emergence of a smart grid infrastructure gives promise to a more technologically and energy-efficient future.

Engineering smart grids is just like engineering anything else; the process is prone to failures, both human and non-human. While various kinds of testing can help minimize some of these setbacks, chances are it will be quite a while before we see mass-scale smart grids in the U.S.

What are your thoughts about moving to smart grids? Do you think they’ll make life easier or more complicated? Tell us in the comments section below!

Image by Life of Pix

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