A harder, better, faster, stronger smart grid

By Editors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and Power
By Andy Bennett,
Senior vice president of infrastructure at Schneider Electric

The Obama administration recently published a report that calls for increased spending on the nation's electric power system to increase power grid resilience. The report highlights the enormous economic risks that come with not addressing grid resilience, as power outages cost the economy billions of dollars per year and disrupt the lives of millions of Americans.

Severe weather is the No. 1 cause of power outages in the U.S. and also costs the economy billions of dollars per year in lost output and wages, spoiled inventory, delayed production, inconvenience and damage to grid infrastructure. The report estimates the average annual cost of power outages caused by severe weather to be between $18 billion and $33 billion per year. In a year of record-breaking storms, the costs can run much higher.

Creating a resilient electric grid is critical to reducing our nation's vulnerability to severe weather. Furthermore, as highlighted in the report, smart grid technology designed to increase resilience can improve the overall effectiveness of grid operations leading to great efficiencies in energy use and reduction in carbon emissions. As utilities look to modernize the grid, they not only have the opportunity to improve storm resiliency, drive greater energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions, but also to support the integration of renewable energy .

In my experience as senior vice president of infrastructure at Schneider Electric , investing in resiliency doesn't have to be at the expense of efficiency or vice versa. Instead, savings from efficiency can actually help fund investments in resiliency. Furthermore, some activities actually increase resiliency and efficiency at the same time.

Examples include leveraging microgrids to smooth out the intermittency of renewable generation, allowing less efficient generators to shut down; or real-time analysis of power grids to determine optimal configuration to minimize electrical losses.

To move towards a more modernized grid and in turn reduce distribution network performance, investment should be made to replace aging infrastructure. As the demand for higher quality power increases, the evolving grid of the future will likely be upgraded to include self-healing capabilities designed to minimize outages from disasters and other natural events. In the near future, we foresee a movement toward multi-user, multi-site microgrids that will create an environment for a stronger and more self-sufficient power system.

In our view, modernizing the electric grid is the foundation for creating smarter, more resilient data centers, homes, buildings, cities and communities. Collaboration across all levels of government and the private sector will be key to enabling the development of the smart grid and ultimately to creating a more sustainable, resilient, energy efficient country.


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