“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.
In December 2007, Congress passed, and the President approved, Title XIII of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA). EISA provided the legislative support for DOE’s smart grid activities and reinforced its role in leading and coordinating national grid modernization efforts. Key provisions of Title XIII include:
- Section 1303 establishes at DOE the Smart Grid Advisory Committee and Federal Smart Grid Task Force.
- Section 1304 authorizes DOE to develop a “Smart Grid Regional Demonstration Initiative.”
- Section 1305 directs the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), with DOE and others, to develop a Smart Grid Interoperability Framework.
- Section 1306 authorizes DOE to develop a “Federal Matching Fund for Smart Grid Investment Costs"
OE Taking a Leadership Role
In its national leadership role, OE has partnered with key stakeholders from industry, academia, and state governments to modernize the nation’s electricity delivery system. OE and its partners identify research and development (R&D) priorities that address challenges and accelerate transformation to a smarter grid, supporting demonstration of not only smart grid technologies but also new business models, policies, and societal benefits. OE has demonstrated leadership in advancing this transformation through cooperative efforts with the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) Subcommittee on Smart Grid and the Federal Smart Grid Task Force.
The National Science and Technology Council Subcommittee on Smart Grid: Chaired by the Assistant Secretary for OE and the National Director for Smart Grid at NIST, the Subcommittee is promulgating a vision for a smarter grid including the core priorities and opportunities it presents; facilitating a strong, coordinated effort across federal agencies to develop smart grid policy; and developing A Policy Framework for the 21st Century Grid which describes four goals the Obama Administration will pursue in order to ensure that all Americans benefit from investments in the Nation's electric infrastructure: better alignment of economic incentives to boost development and deployment of smart-grid technologies; a greater focus on standards and interoperability to enable greater innovation; empowerment of consumers with enhanced information to save energy, ensure privacy, and shrink bills; and improved grid security and resilience.
Federal Smart Grid Task Force: Directed by OE, the Task Force includes experts from the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Homeland Security, and State; the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC); the Environmental Protection Agency; and the Federal Communications Commission. The mission is to ensure awareness, coordination, and integration of the diverse federal activities related to smart grid technologies and practices. The Task Force implements Administration policies articulated by the NSTC Subcommittee on Smart Grid while coordinating federal research, development and demonstration; international activities; and outreach and education efforts.
In leading a national transformation to a smarter grid, OE’s first step was to define not only a vision for the future electric delivery system but also the functional characteristics. Beginning in 2005, OE convened seven regional workshops across the country, involving regulators, utilities, vendors, legislators, research institutions, universities, and other stakeholders to forge a common vision and scope for the smart grid. This two-year effort resulted in identification of the principal smart grid functional characteristics that comprise the foundation of OE’s smart grid program
- Self-healing from power disturbance events
- Enabling active participation by consumers in demand response
- Operating resiliently against physical and cyber attack
- Providing power quality for 21st century needs
- Accommodating all generation and storage options
- Enabling new products, services, and markets
- Optimizing assets and operating efficiently
As defined by the principal characteristics, OE has a vision of a smart grid that uses digital technology to improve reliability, resiliency, flexibility, and efficiency (both economic and energy) of the electric delivery system. The strategy to achieve this vision hinges upon activities that directly address the technical, business, and institutional challenges to realizing a smarter grid. Below figure shows the relationship between the specific activities OE is undertaking and the overall vision.
The key activities that comprise OE’s smart grid strategy are summarized below. Each activity area addresses one or more of the identified challenges.
- Smart grid demonstrations and deployment activities take advantage of the catalytic effect of substantial investments in the manufacturing, purchasing and installation of devices and systems. These activities leverage efforts under way in the research and development activity area and will help develop critical performance and proof-of-concept data. This activity area is also developing a framework for analyzing smart grid metrics and benefits, which is necessary to help build the business case for cost-effective smart grid technologies.
- Research and development activities advance smart grid functionality by developing innovative, next-generation technologies and tools in the areas of transmission, distribution, energy storage, power electronics, cybersecurity and the advancement of precise time-synchronized measures of certain parameters of the electric grid.
- Interoperability and Standards activities ensure that new devices will interoperate in a secure environment as innovative digital technologies are implemented throughout the electricity delivery system, advancing the economic and energy security of the United States. The ongoing smart grid interoperability process promises to lead to flexible, uniform, and technology-neutral standards that enable innovation, improve consumer choice, and yield economies of scale. Interoperability and standards activities are not limited to technical information standards; they must be advanced in conjunction with business processes, markets and the regulatory environment.
- Interconnection planning and analysis activities create greater certainty with respect to future generation, including identifying transmission requirements under a broad range of alternative electricity futures (e.g., intensive application of demand-side technologies) and developing long-term interconnection-wide transmission expansion plans.
- Workforce development intends to address the impending workforce shortage by developing a greater number of well-trained, highly skilled electric power sector personnel knowledgeable in smart grid operations. An example of this is OE’s involvement with the Consortium for Electric Reliability Technology Solutions (CERTS), a consortium of national laboratories, universities and industry that performs research and develops and disseminates new methods, tools and techniques to protect and enhance the reliability of the U.S. electric power system and the efficiency of competitive electricity markets.
- Stakeholder engagement and outreach activities identify R&D needs for planning, sharing of lessons learned for continuous improvement, and exchanging technical and cost performance data. Information is provided on www.smartgrid.gov to inform decision makers about smart grid technology options and facilitate their adoption.
- Monitoring national progress activities establish metrics to show progress with respect to overcoming challenges and achieving smart grid characteristics.
“ The Smart Grid: An Introduction” is a publication sponsored by DOE’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability that explores - in layman’s terms – the nature, challenges, opportunities and necessity of Smart Grid implementation. Additional books, released in 2009, target the interests of specific stakeholder groups: Consumer Advocates, Utilities, Technology Providers, Regulators, Policy Makers and Environmental Groups, to explain in greater detail what the Smart Grid will mean to each us.