The Smart Grid vs. Dumb Lines
The discussion about power generation, transmission, distribution, and consumption is now a part of casual chat – and conversations on technology and data should most definitely include the infrastructure improvements our nation is making towards ‘smart grid’ development; i.e., automation that helps provide electricity, on demand, to consumers regardless of location or provider. The idea is to improve everyday standards of living and save individuals money with consistency, affordability, sustainability, and efficiency.
The sad truth of the matter is that America as a nation isn’t quite there – yet. At this point in time, our dreams far outweigh our reality – and it is a bitter one, indeed. The truth is that regional electricity infrastructure isn’t equipped to shunt and stream electricity the way the internet is; our ‘electron surfing’ experience isn’t redirected and carefully maintained for the fastest, most direct route and it certainly isn’t the cheapest one. Between power generation and distribution are thousands of local producers, and literally hundreds of little points of power pushing it to hundreds of other little points that then transmit it across state and even national lines.
Not only that, but the three major grids – and their ‘interconnect’s – lend themselves to even more intercession from third party companies whose sole purpose is just to transmit and transfer and monitor energy through their privately held power lines. Then we have the North American Energy Electric Reliability Corporation – and while non-profit, its entire purpose is to basically enforce standards deemed ‘necessary’ for system reliability; this could be smart-grid upgrades, transmission improvements, or monitoring smart grid data.
Have there been implementations of smart grid technology? Of course there have – some of which are operating under such a deluge of information that they are having trouble identifying what the data is, let alone what to do with it, whether to keep it, and how to track it. Kind of like riding a motorcycle with no helmet on over 60 mph – the air is moving in such volume and so quickly past your face that you cannot possibly draw a real breath and yet you feel like you’re drowning… in air. Waiting for someone to call and say a tree fell on their line and they don’t have power isn’t enough anymore – now, substations and transformers and even individual smart meters at consumers’ locations send an endless stream of information, including not just consumption and generation data, but also variables such as fault detection, self-healing data, bidirectional energy flows, time of day metering, demand response, etc.
Worst of all is that as recently as 2010, utilities were still using 1200 baud modems to transmit data on the grid systems spread across our country. To put that information into perspective, 58% of Americans own a Smartphone with a minimum of 3G network connection. An ‘average’ low-speed 3G network is running around 400kbps (400,000 bauds per second). This means that in your pocket you carry a piece of technology that communicates over three hundred times faster per second then our ‘dumb lines’ can talk to our ‘smart grid’. There’s a lot of reasons technology like this is still in place – the biggest one of course being lack of funding for improvements, and the second being a hesitancy or fear of changing a system that has been in place and so functional for so very long.
When people talk about a ‘smart grid’, they bring to mind really exciting ideas about things like: vehicles that become mobile batteries for peak grid consumption times, we talk about smart homes that communicate to a smart meter that talks to a smart grid, we imagine a level of automation previously unknown that is going to lead us into a golden age of prosperity, productivity, and success. There is no prediction at this point in time what that is going to look like – perhaps the best question we can ask ourselves right now should be, when?
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This is an original article written by Mai Bjorklund for Swartz Electric. This article may not be copied whole or in part without the express permission of Swartz Electric, LLC.
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