Smart grids

In my last post I briefly touched the subject of smart grids, in this post I will go deeper into this subject and I will try to explain what it actually is and it’s functionalities.

Let me start by giving you wikipedia’s definition of what a smart grid actually is.  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.  So from this definition you can see that a smart grid is designed to better match the question and demand for electricity to prevent the electrical grid to be overloaded

So you might ask why there is a need for this to be implemented. I would ask you to imagine the following situation where everybody comes home at about 5 o’clock and plugs in their electric car.  As you can see this would put an immense stress on the grid.  But it is not only in consumption of energy that possible problems can rise.  Suppose that everybody in a city or a district has a house equipped with solar pannels and that on a sunny day the electrical generation is higher than the electrical consumption in this district.  This excess of electricity will be pumped into the grid.  From situations like these I hope you can see that in the future company’s, consumers and producers will have to adjust their consumption and generation to each others needs and demands.

The term “smart grid” is actually a bit misleading because it is not the grid that will be controlled, it are the appliances that are plugged into the grid that will be controlled.

So now we have a basic understanding of what a smart grid is, what will be the functionalities of such a grid?

Regulate the supply and demand of electricity
This would solve the problem of overproduction in the example of the city/district that is equipped with solar pannels and is producing more than it needs.  In a smart grid buildings would be equipped by smart meters, when the supply of energy is high a signal can be send to this smart meters saying that electricity is cheap.  The smart meters then can start charging electrical cars, doing laundry, … all tasks that have to be done but that can wait for a certain period.  For instance you want your car to be charged before you need it again tomorrow but you don’t really care when it actually charges so it can charge in the middle of the night, in the morning, …. In this way the demand and supply are regulated to be in balance.

A smart grid will use techniques that improve and facilitate fault detection and allow self healing of the grid, so without the intervention of technicians.  This will be acchieved by a multiple route system.  But you can remark that the current grid also uses these multiplpe route system and that certainly is the case. However in the current system an other problem may rises that when one network is overloaded the power shifts to an other network wich causes that to overload that network and can result in a black out.  A technique to prevent this is by load shedding or a voltage reduction.

Flexibility in network topology
The classic electrical grid is designed for a one directional energy flow.  The next-generation transmission and distribution infrastructure will be better able to handle possible bidirection energy flows.

Numerous contributions to overall improvement of the efficiency of energy infrastructure is anticipated from the deployment of smart grid technology, in particular including demand-side management, for example turning off air conditioners during short-term spikes in electricity price. The overall effect is less redundancy in transmission and distribution lines, and greater utilisation of generators, leading to lower power prices.

These are some of the major advantages that a smart grid brings, but there are also lots of other one’s. For instance you will never again have to wait at home for someone to come and control your meter reading, because your meter communicates this automatically to the energy distributor.

Thanks for reading and if you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask!


4 thoughts on “Smart grids

  1. Smarts Grids are the future, but it will be very costly and it will need time to be installed. And like a said earlier, lots of visionaries see a huge connected electricity/power grid trough whole Europe. By controlling it and connecting it with smart meters etc. lots of energy saving could be done.

    • woutcordeel says:

      The problem with this is the fact that this system has to be tested a lot. Currently there are a few projects in the Netherlands and Belgium I think.
      Maybe it looks like a stupid example but we went to Germany to visit some companies, like Boeiiing. The models they are fabricating right now are designed in the late 60’s. It took them 50 years to complete the design thus for such a large project as intercontinental smart grid, it will take at least a couple of decades.
      But another problem is the state of the grid. Is it capable to transport a large amount of energy when demanded?

      • deckersbram says:

        How do you mean? Is is capable to transport a large amount of energy right now or in the future? I think that at the moment the grid is not capable of doing that, thats why they need to upgrade it.

      • woutcordeel says:

        That’s what I mean, Upgrading the whole system will take years, decades. Therefore I think smart grids in Europe, thus intercontinental use, will take like 20, 30 years, because some countries do have the money, but the southern or eastern countries on the other hand..

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