How are innovative utilities securing our nations electrical grid

 In Electric Utility

A number of threats to our nations electrical grid are in desperate need of an answer. Current threats are not solely from wartime risks such as cyber attacks, an EMP weapon or conventional weapons. Other threats to the grid may come from natural disasters or solar flares. Some risks that our grid is facing come from the growth of the grid itself, service reliability and matching generation to supply are also concerns. Public and private partners from around the world are hunting for solutions to help safeguard our electrical grid. Below are examples of innovative technology solutions which could, in time, become the savior to our grid and help revolutionise electric delivery.

The smart grid, better energy management.

EPB is a small municipal utility serving over 170,000 customers in Greater Chattanooga, Tennessee and is one of the premier examples of how a smart grid can be utilised across the country. The company has made large investments in the grid, and now operates an almost 100% fibre optic network that limits power outages and improves communication. Further to this, the company has offered their customers the Schneider Electric’s Energy Profiler Online, which is a cloud-based energy management system, and for business clients, the Business Power Tracker allows businesses to track energy use and provides them with an opportunity to change their power habits. The company had to invest a large amount of money into the infrastructure, but since the changes to a smart grid, EPB has proven the concept works on a larger scale, and this kind of grid could present an opportunity to change the future of the United States.

The microgrid, local electric generation and storage.

When it comes to delivering reliable, cost-competitive and clean energy solutions, it might be time to go smaller instead of bigger. Microgrid Knowledge and FuelCell Energy has combined to create a partnership that might move the United States electrical grid into the future, a future that is micro. The advantages of this type of system are quite immense. The combination of fuel cells and microgrids lead to a reliable round-the-clock local generation capability while the ability to manage energy intelligently and easily distribute power ensures the solution might be the right solution. Further to this, microgrids deal with grid interruptions with ease and ensure that those on their grid will have the power they need. Plus, the ability for microgrids to be combined with renewable generation options like solar and wind will ensure that this kind of solution might be the future of electrical grids in the United States. If Microgrid Knowledge and FuelCell Energy have their way, the next generation of the electrical grid will be powered by renewable energy and microgrids, stored by powerful and efficient fuel cells.

Storm impact analysis, quicker recovery after weather events.

With storms such as Hurricane Sandy, the electrical power grid has a lot to learn from it, and yet for many in the industry, they have chosen to ignore the telltale signs. Well for those who study storm impact analysis, the solutions to strengthen our power grid might be right in front of us.  For utilities, knowing what to do before, during and after a storm has a huge effect on the end use consumer. By using the predictive data that comes from storm impact analysis, utilities can reduce restoration times, cut costs by limiting damage to the existing infrastructure and minimise the impact on their customers. Companies such as Schneider Electric and Weather Sentry have invested in the analytics around storm impact analysis to great avail. They are currently working with several companies around the United States, and their ability to not only save the utility money but to keep the power on for their customers is unrivaled in the space.

Vehicle and grid, off-peak charging.

As the electric car becomes a mainstream option for working folks, the simple fact is that our electrical grid is not prepared to handle it. This is why a number of automotive companies have joined San Diego Gas and Electric to work on a pilot program that would allow cars and the utilities to talk. This kind of program has been done before in Japan with Sumitomo Electric developing a prototype software that allowed this kind of communication to happen. The goal is it sync car charging with non-peak times, to not only save consumers but to ease the demand on the already taxed power grid. It is uncertain if this kind of communication will save the power grid in the long-term, or if it will simply allow consumers to save, but these kinds of pilot projects are essential to prepare for the eventual removal of fossil fuel has driven cars and trucks on our roads. This kind of software could work towards a fully integrated smart grid, with vehicles and power consumption linked up to better utilise existing power outputs.

Blockchain, and the next power grid

Blockchain software is something that has become infamous for its involvement with cryptocurrencies, but, in reality, blockchain truly makes the internet of things possible. The blockchain is already in the field, and field tests are currently going well. Filament is currently testing out ‘taps’ in the Australian outback. The devices are installed on power polls and can talk directly with each other from up to 10 miles away, and considering that the average power line is 200 feet apart if a motion detector is detected, the next pole in the set will detect it. This signal will be piggybacked across each detector until it reaches the backhaul location some 120 miles away. Although still in testing, this kind of blockchain technology showcases the real possibility of a blockchain mesh network being able to work within the power grid. As well, these devices are able to reconfigure themselves to adjust to bandwidth, storage, and ensure that interruptions are limited, and thus limiting the waste of resources.  Mesh networking might be the next revolution in power grid technology, and it is all powered by blockchain.

Helping safeguard our electrical grid in the event of a natural or wartime disaster is underway. These efforts parallel grid modernization efforts which are essential to ensure electric delivery. As if these weren’t enough, the use of electrical energy is increasing as the world weans itself off fossil fuels. Within the next 10 years we will see the widespread roll-out of new energy technologies, what mix of solutions will prevail is uncertain.


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