The Case for The Smart Grid

Since its inception the grid system has remained virtually unchanged. So much so, that in some major cities and countries worldwide the grid is over forty years old. Very little has been invested by utilities into grid upgrades or grid innovations up until last year. Historically R&D only accounted for 1% of the total revenue for electric utilities. It is reckoned that if Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell were alive today, Bell would struggle to recognise mobile phones from his original invention, but Edison would have no problems recognising the electric grid of today.

A grid consisting of large-scale centralised power generation plants which generate power which is transmitted at high-voltage to the grid. Then the electric power ‘stepped down’ via a transformer to a lower voltage to consumers. The transmission of electricity is one-way from the generator to consumer, and none of this electricity is stored. Therefore, all of the electricity generated must be consumed.

For the traditional grid system consumers of this electricity have meters inside or outside their house displaying their electric use. Meter readers would come around once or maybe twice a year to read the meters. Using information on the size of the house and other demographic information, and the readings themselves, utilities would give the occupants estimated monthly electricity bills. If the consumer does not pay their bills or there is a dispute, in some grid systems, the electricity supply to the house would need to be turned off manually.

In the event of a blackout or reduced voltage, consumers would then call the utility to inform them of the problem. Otherwise the utility would have no way of knowing the extent and the location of any problems in the grid system. Following the call, the utility would then send a repair team around to asset the damage and resolve the problem.

These elements are all things that can be mitigated with a smart grid system that allows for bi-directional communication and servicing. Adding technology as it already exists to the current infrastructure can mean better reliability and a more efficient grid system which is able to take our growing energy needs further without a massive capital investment in new generation capacity.

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