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Smart Grids: Energy Infrastructure Modernization & the Internet of Things

Smart Grids: Energy Infrastructure Modernization & the Internet of Things

We’ve written a lot recently about the possibilities unleashed by interconnected technologies (broadly referred to as the Internet of Things or IoT). From smart homes that prioritize comfort and ease-of-use for homeowners to smart buildings (commercial, residential, or industrial) that integrate systems to achieve massive energy savings, the growing combination of IoT technology and solar energy is very promising.

There’s an even greater application for this technology, however - one that could help our inefficient, unstable energy infrastructure enter the modern era. Grid modernization, the effort to update an electric grid that hasn’t changed much over the last century, can incorporate IoT technology to create a more resilient, accessible, and efficient power distribution system. Here’s how:

Smart Meters are Just the Beginning

The initial application of interconnected technology to hit the grid has been the implementation of “smart meters” over the past decade or so. While not everyone is happy with the way utilities have used smart meters, they mark the beginning stages of a modern grid by making two-way communication between utilities and homes possible. This sharing of information benefits utilities, consumers, and the grid that connects them.

As Capgemini notes, “Utilities want to profitably manage supply and demand, while customers want uninterrupted service, with lower carbon emissions and greater control over usage and costs. One way of providing that greater degree of control is through information.” Smart meters allow utilities to remotely monitor energy usage to better prepare for peaks and lows and regulate the demand being placed on the grid. For consumers, smart meters provide a more detailed understanding of energy usage, including time of use pricing. For those consumers who produce their own energy through distributed generation systems, smart meters also document the flow of power back onto the grid.

But smart meters are just the first step towards building a smarter grid through innovative technology.

IoT Technologies Make the Grid Smarter

In addition to more advanced metering, the interconnected web of devices we call the Internet of Things offers greater grid stability and accessibility for renewable energy generation systems. These technologies include smart inverters for solar panels, which automatically adjust the power supply to the correct voltage, and smart thermostats, which learn usage patterns to anticipate demand (or skirt high demand periods entirely).

In terms of updating the energy transmission infrastructure to create greater stability and efficiency, many IoT technologies are being implemented. The U.S. Department of Energy writes that “Through the IoT, advanced sensors can gather new data from grid assets to give grid operators better insight into infrastructure performance; controls can work across the transmission and distribution systems that are responsive to changing grid conditions, based on shifting generation mixes, physical conditions, or security threats.” These include smart sensors that can detect areas where power is being lost, intelligent distribution transformers that can help prevent outages, and line fault indicators that can predict weaknesses and suggest areas that are in need of repair.

These technologies also enhance distributed generation system’s relationship to the grid, giving consumers who generate some (or all) of their own power more seamlessly access, whether they are drawing power or adding it. Distributed generation is a vital component of any grid modernization effort, as incorporating renewable energy reduces demand from less sustainable sources while decreasing the burden on our vulnerable infrastructure.

Growing the Smart Grid

Last year, the Department of Energy announced a $50 million award “to begin research and development of tools that can enable the next-generation of grid infrastructure,” as StateTech reports. This initiative is a response to the escalating challenges facing the grid, including increasingly unpredictable and damaging storms as well as cyber-threats that make our energy infrastructure vulnerable.

As consumers, we can contribute to grid modernization efforts through implementing our own smart home or building systems to reduce power use and save money. Solar-connected IoT devices are making the generation and storage of solar power more efficient and cost-effective than ever.

If you’re ready to learn more about the solar IoT solutions that can enhance your comfort and your bottom line, contact us today!

 

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Bob Solger is Mr. Solar to the Kansas City region. With a passion to forge change and be green well before it was cool to do so, Bob has led the regional market as an engineer and spokesperson for the adoption of solar energy. He completes his projects professionally and continues to inspire by teaching others how to get the most from solar installations.

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