“Smart grid” generally refers to a class of technology people are using to bring utility electricity delivery systems into the 21st century, using computer-based remote control and automation. These systems are made possible by two-way communication technology and computer processing that has been used for decades in other industries. They are beginning to be used on electricity networks, from the power plants and wind farms all the way to the consumers of electricity in homes and businesses. They offer many benefits to utilities and consumers — mostly seen in big improvements in energy efficiency on the electricity grid and in the energy users’ homes and offices.
For a century, utility companies have had to send workers out to gather much of the data needed to provide electricity. The workers read meters, look for broken equipment and measure voltage, for example. Most of the devices utilities use to deliver electricity have yet to be automated and computerized. Now, many options and products are being made available to the electricity industry to modernize it. The “grid” amounts to the networks that carry electricity from the plants where it is generated to consumers. The grid includes wires, substations, transformers, switches and much more.
Much in the way that a “smart” phone these days means a phone with a computer in it, smart grid means “computerizing” the electric utility grid. It includes adding two-way digital communication technology to devices associated with the grid. Each device on the network can be given sensors to gather data (power meters, voltage sensors, fault detectors, etc.), plus two-way digital communication between the device in the field and the utility’s network operations center. A key feature of the smart grid is automation technology that lets the utility adjust and control each individual device or millions of devices from a central location.
The number of applications that can be used on the smart grid once the data communications technology is deployed is growing as fast as inventive companies can create and produce them. Benefits include enhanced cyber-security, handling sources of electricity like wind and solar power and even integrating electric vehicles onto the grid. The companies making smart grid technology or offering such services include technology giants, established communication firms and even brand new technology firms.