Supporters of the smart grid initiative in the United States say the transformation will be the most dramatic since Thomas Edison first started generating electricity in New York City back in 1882. Once a smart grid is deployed nationwide, energy will be used much more efficiently and cleanly as renewable power is integrated into the system. Fewer power plants will be needed as a result.
“The electric grid we have today is a marvelous thing,” said Todd Arnold, senior vice president at Duke Energy. “It was the engineering marvel of the 20th century and led to the electrification of America.” Arnold made his remarks in an interview with the Cincinnati Enquirer.
A new system is needed now that consumers are demanding more and more energy. The old system was never designed to handle the current level of demand, nor can it handle the intermittent supply of renewable resources.
Duke began installing smart meters in a pilot project last year. The effort was successful and the power provider was able to win a Department of Energy grant worth $200 million. Duke officials say the grant could help speed up deployment of the new system by a couple of years.
Much of the focus in smart grid technology has been on electrical transmission but Duke has also rolled out smart gas meters that are also able to share information bi-directionally with customers. “The technology is a little different, but it’s a common place to gather information and bring it back to the company,” Arnold explained.
Right away the smart meters will trim operational costs for Duke Energy because human meter readers won’t have to be dispatched. Even with the meter readers Duke still had to send out a million estimated bills because the company couldn’t gain access to customers’ conventional meters. Estimated bills are often inaccurate and confuse customers when it comes time to reconcile the estimate with actual usage.
Duke says another big advantage is how substations and breakers can instantly communicate. Equipment that is about to break down can be identified so it can be replaced before there is a problem. If an outage does happen Duke’s smart grid technology can pinpoint precisely and instantly which customers are without power and service can be promptly rerouted.
This rerouting capability has already been put to the test. In September, Duke’s smart grid pilot installation at Price Hill experienced a momentary outage when a lightning arrestor failed and service was interrupted for 3,369 customers. Power was only out for an instant for 2,160 customers as the smart grid re-routed itself. Another 1,000 customers gained service in just over an hour and the remaining 200 or so had power back on within three hours.
The real benefit for customers is gaining access to real-time consumption data. At first this information will be available on a two-day lag but the goal is to provide real-time access. Customers can then choose to use energy based upon how much it costs.
“Over time, over a number of years, you’re in effect building an energy Internet over our grid of wires and poles,” said Arnold. “Then you have the ability to connect devices, connect to customers; and that gives you opportunities to improve reliability, give customers more options and more control.”
Duke has asked the Ohio Public Utilities Commission to approve a new pilot pricing program based upon the time of day. “We’d like to see about 1,000 customers, give or take, in the pilot,” said Janine Midgen-Ostrander, of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel. “People have to get familiar with the technology.”
The Obama administration says that smart grid technology can reduce energy consumption in the United States by more than 4 percent by 2030 – savings that would amount to $20 billion a year. The DOE says that 40 million smart meters will be in place over the next few years but that is still less than a third of all household.
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