A smart grid – a computerised electricity transmission and distribution network incorporating monitoring, reconfiguration and real time feedback – promises to revolutionise energy delivery by lowering costs, minimising outage frequency and duration, and simplifying the interfacing of renewable energy sources to the system.
Constructing a smart grid demands a systematic approach and relies on investment in equipment, personnel and training to alter the decades-old operating practices of the electricity distribution sector. Because of an emphasis on safety and reliability, change in electricity distribution is typically slow and other sectors have been quicker to embrace computers and information technology (IT).
Nonetheless, pressure from customers reacting to increasing prices and an environmental lobby opposed to adding more fossil fuel-based generating capacity has brought implementation of a smart grid to the fore. Initiatives in China, the U.S., EU and Australia are already having an impact on electricity distribution in these countries and planning in other developed and developing nations is advanced.
Distribution automation (DA) – intelligent sensors, processors and communication technologies that enable an electric utility to remotely monitor and coordinate its distribution assets, and operate these assets in an optimal manner with or without manual intervention – is a fundamental enabler for the smart grid. Investment in DA, for example state-of-the-art automatic circuit reclosers, will allow utilities to realize the full potential of a smart grid.
Smart grids also promise to help utilities in continents like Europe and Australia – where carbon-trading and - pricing schemes are now enshrined in law – the opportunity to significantly decrease their carbon liabilities. This could be achieved by making better use of existing generating capacity and intermittent renewable sources of power to match highly variable demand - rather than building more power stations to cover anticipated peaks and wasting energy at times of lower demand. Further (indirect) carbon savings would be possible because a smart grid provides a catalyst for the uptake of electric- and plug in electric hybrid-vehicles.
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