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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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What Our Clients Are Saying

I have researched adding PV to my home for several years and have met with several PV providers in the KC area and they tend to fall into two broad categories, the new and low budget operators who got into this to ride the wave and are not that knowledgeable, and the commercial providers who have little interest in working with a homeowner and are geared to providing a much larger system where some economy of scale must come into play. Both my wife and I are architects and we wanted something different and it was challenging to find someone who was interested in doing something out of the ordinary. Neither or those types were interested in working with us as we were trying to create something a bit different. they each wanted to sell us their pre-configured solutions.

 

Fortunately we found Bob Solger. He has been a delight to work with and is incredibly knowledgeable and responsive. We wanted to create a solar carport that would provide cover and protection for our cars, but would also provide shade over part of our patio. In essence, the big idea was to create an outdoor pavilion, when, if we wanted to entertain we could move the cars out of the way and have a large covered area for an outdoor gathering. We had selected the Lumos brand of solar panels as they have a very clean look and are partially transparent so some light filters through the panels creating a mottled light pattern on the ground, similar to the shading from a tree. In addition, the system is set up to hide the majority of the connecting wires in the support beams so when you look up at the underside of the PV roof you see a very clean look. Bob recognized our goal and worked with us to ensure the project’s success. Bob identified a structural engineer to design an elegant support structure and found a fabricator to build it affordably. Finally he connected us with a contracting team to clear the space, provide the footings, retaining walls, and pad, who were every bit as careful with everything as you would hope. They were amazingly accommodating to every request and understood that there were a lot of competing challenges that needed to be resolved so we could fit this all in to a very tight location and make it look like it belongs.

 

The bottom line is that it all turned out better than we could have hoped and while it did cost more than the low ball bids received from some of the low budget operators, it was less than the commercially focused suppliers, and more importantly we got the design we wanted and a well-constructed PV carport that will give us great delight for years to come. The best part is of course the savings on our electric bill, which thus far has been averaging around $200/month. So not only do we have a new carport and entertainment patio that our neighbors have been stopping by and admiring (which given that we live in the older Brookside neighborhood and our PV carport is quite modern, we were much relieved) but, our electric bills have been in the under $10/month range.

 

We owe a great debt of gratitude to Bob and his knowledge and team for helping to create an amazing PV carport for us. I’m sure you would be delighted with whatever you engage him to help you with.

Dev & Sue Malik

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