I think it’s safe to say that most of us can’t imagine an existence without electricity. And that’s precisely why power utilities play such a key role in the smooth running of our everyday lives.
We all know that the primary goal of an electric power utility is to ensure the reliable delivery of power through its power grid. But it’s just not that simple anymore. The world has changed a lot since most power grids were built. Today, not only do power utilities face dramatic increases in demand in general, but more specifically they have to cope with sudden spikes in demand, distributed energy, different types of communication and networks, new devices to control, new services and smart homes and cities. And they must do all this efficiently and in a way that doesn’t threaten the delivery of power.
In order to deal with these challenges, the utilities have been busy upgrading their legacy infrastructure and adding sophisticated communications networks that collect and deliver near real-time information about power transmission, distribution and consumption. This treasure trove of information is helping the utilities more quickly and intelligently respond to power grid status and demand increases.
Now enter the ‘smart’ grid. The smart grid is the combination of the communications network and grid equipment, and it makes possible an upgraded power infrastructure that can distribute energy more efficiently and make both consumers and companies more knowledgeable about their usage. The smart grid is an evolution that adds control and automation to the electric grid.
You’ve probably heard a lot of hype recently about the extension of the smart grid down to households via smart metering. These new smart meters facilitate the gathering of near real-time information about actual consumption, and they empower consumers to take a more active role in managing their own energy, which, in turn, helps flatten demand peaks.
But the intelligent grid goes way beyond distribution automation and SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) systems for remote monitoring and control of critical infrastructure. An additional driver for change is political and regulatory pressure to move toward renewable energy sources that reduce utilities’ carbon footprint. In line with this, small-scale, remotely located power resources are being added that typically are connected to the least automated part of the grid (the medium and even low voltage parts of the distribution network) and are usually not covered by the communications network.
What’s clear is that a robust, high-capacity and cost-effective data communications network is a key element in providing the necessary connectivity and enabling intelligent smart grid operations. It will also open the door for additional future applications and services.
Global Utility Market Manager