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Smart Grid


Smart Grid Savvy By Tom Tate


Smart grid, schmart grid. What’s the big deal? Well, the short answer is, it’s a pretty big deal indeed. Especially when it comes to reliability and information. All over the world, countries are pursuing grid modernization for the benefits provided to the environment, economy and energy security. But what does that mean?


A quick Google search of “the definition of smart grid” pulls more than 1.5 million results and includes a variety of opin- ions. A simple explanation from the IEEE reads:


“The Smart Grid describes the next-generation electrical power system typified by the increased use of communica- tions and information technol- ogy.” Okay. Simple may be a stretch, so let’s try this. First off, “the grid” con- sists of the poles, wires, transformers, switches, fuses and other compo- nents that make up local power lines and trans- mission lines, which are the larger ones that carry higher voltage. Currently, the major- ity of equipment used in the grid has no ability to communicate with its operators. So, when a piece of equipment fails, the folks back at Kay Electric Cooperative’s office may know there is an outage but likely will not know exactly where it is located. Crews must be sent out to patrol and find the problem, which takes time and extends the outage’s length for the members.


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In a smart grid, equip- ment has the ability to


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communicate with the systems back at the electric co-op. These communications flow over the power lines or other communications channels and allow operators to pinpoint outages, check on the health of equipment to avoid outages and control the flow of electric- ity to route it around an outage. All of this helps the smart grid improve reliability and reduce outage length.


How about an example?


Let’s say a tree limb falls on a set of power lines and causes the recloser (circuit breaker) to open. With a smart recloser, the utility can pinpoint where it is on the system. Now, combine that with automated meter reading (AMR) equip- ment, and the electric co-op can determine the number of members without power. They dispatch the crew to the exact location and have the oppor- tunity to post outage updates, such as the estimated time to restoration and the number of members without power. In ad- dition, the operators can switch power around the fault to turn members on before the crew arrives, resulting in a shorter outage for all involved. In the smart grid, it is all about communicating system status information to coopera- tive system operators so they can remotely operate the grid, keeping it at peak efficiency.


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