Part 3: The smart grid

(© AP Images)

(© AP Images)

All those new energy resources call for new ways of managing the grid. Digital technology has come to the rescue with hardware, software and remote-controlled devices that make it easier for utility companies to monitor, dispatch and ensure reliable electricity delivery to customers. It’s called the smart grid.

It combines the infrastructure of the power grid as we know it with all the tools information technology can provide. Advanced electric meters can record consumption in great detail. These smart meters can also track how much energy is generated by customers who have installed solar panels on their homes or businesses, so they may be credited for their contributions to the grid.

Automatic sensors, processors, communications networks and switches are part of this new infrastructure — called distribution automation — that is increasing grid reliability. These technologies allow customers to view their usage on in-home power monitors, on their computers or other devices.

Cities employing new power grid technologies to improve electricity service are called smart cities, just as similarly hooked-up homes are smart homes: They can operate via wireless devices, often interactively, with the power provider.

Interactive connections keep customers informed and let them take advantage of off-peak electricity usage periods, when demand is lower. It can save the consumer money where the utility company gives credits or price breaks for off-peak usage. It also makes the grid more efficient and less likely to be overloaded. Power outages can happen when demand exceeds supply during heavy usage periods.

This article is the third in a five-part series on power grid terminology. Next up: energy efficiency.

By: Lea Terhune