Why it’s the growth of renewable resources that makes the most compelling case for a smarter grid.
Mark Madden is regional vice president (Greater NYC Area) for North American Utilities, at Alcatel-Lucent. He has 25 years’ experience in information technology and the telecom industry, and has consulted to a wide variety of companies on communications network architectures, systems, and performance.
Electric power grids today carry ever-increasing amounts of energy from non-traditional sources. These renewable resources, such as wind and solar, reflect a growing environmental interest on the part of consumers, plus a regulatory environment that calls for reductions in carbon emissions.
But this shift adds greater demand on electric utility communications networks. Why so?
The renewable component of the energy supply typically involves small-scale, distributed energy resources. These resources tend to be connected to the least automated part of the grid - the medium-voltage and especially the low-voltage parts of the distribution network. This input of variable energy at varying points on the grid can can lead to destabilization if it is not managed using real-time communications.
Electricity also used to flow in one direction - from the large-scale generation plant through transmission lines, into the distribution network and out to consumers. With the growth of intermittent renewables, electricity now can flow in more than one direction, rising and falling unpredictably, with every passing cloud and falling breeze. This new world makes managing voltage and power quality more difficult and complex. Today this management must occur at a more granular level deeper into the distribution grid. That's one reason why today's grid must become much smarter.