July 20, 2023

A Utility's Guide to the Implementation of Smart Grid Technologies

7 Min. Read

The latest utility technologies include the grid, as around the world, buildings, transportation, and fuel stations are being converted to electrification technologies in the shift towards a more sustainable future with fewer emissions.

Electrification empowers consumers to consume and supply electricity, reducing strain on the grid and promoting renewable energy. Smart grid systems, including bidirectional charging with electric vehicles (EVs), small- and large-scale energy production through renewable resources such as solar panels, wind turbines, and hydro stations, and energy storage systems such as battery storage, enhance the grid’s capacity and resilience. In contrast, distribution intelligence and asset management optimize power distribution and minimize downtime for improved outage response.

In this article, we’ll discuss what makes a grid “smart,” how this benefits utilities and their customers, and how utilities can begin implementing smart grid technology to build a more resilient grid for the future.

Making a Grid “Smart”

In short, making a grid smart involves maximizing energy distribution through consistent communications between customers and utilities and often involves implementing the latest technologies to better assist in these energy management and efficiency efforts.

Customer electrification technologies have already been proven to lead to better grid stabilization, as Eric Cahill of Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) discussed during his conversation with Tom Moloughney, well-known EV and EV charging station industry expert.

These technologies turn consumers into “prosumers,” allowing them to consume electricity from the grid and become small-scale producers who can return excess power.

This bidirectional flow of electricity is made possible through innovative practices like bidirectional charging, where EVs not only draw power from the grid but also can supply power back to it. This flexibility is immensely beneficial for the grid during peak electrical demand periods. By leveraging the power generated by prosumers, the grid can meet increased energy needs without relying solely on traditional power plants, thereby reducing strain on the system.

Additionally, energy storage plays a crucial role in this setup. During non-peak times or when renewable energy generation exceeds immediate demand, you can store excess electricity in batteries or other storage systems. Then, during peak-demand periods, this stored energy can be discharged back into the grid, helping to meet the increased power requirements.

Why This Matters

Bidirectional power flow and energy storage integration foster grid stability and resilience. It reduces strain on the grid, minimizes the risk of blackouts or power outages, and allows for more efficient utilization of renewable energy sources. Furthermore, it empowers individuals and communities to actively participate in the energy transition, promoting a more decentralized and sustainable energy landscape.

By embracing customer electrification technologies, such as prosumer models, bidirectional charging, and energy storage, the grid can benefit from the combined power of consumers-turned-producers and the optimized use of renewable energy resources.

The rise in extreme weather events and the increasing use of modern conveniences have contributed to a surge in electrical demand, resulting in significant challenges for the grid. California’s experience with rolling blackouts, power outages, and concerns about charging electric vehicles (EVs) is a stark example of these strains. However, these challenges extend beyond California and affect regions worldwide.

Fortunately, implementing customer electrification technologies offers promising solutions to improve grid strain, enhance blackout resilience, and ensure reliable power supply. By adopting technologies like bidirectional charging, energy storage, and smart grid systems, the grid can better manage fluctuations in demand, integrate renewable energy sources, and optimize electricity use during peak periods. These advancements bolster the grid’s ability to withstand extreme weather events, prevent blackouts, and ensure uninterrupted power supply for utility customers.

Integrating these latest utility technologies strengthens the grid’s infrastructure and enhances energy resilience by diversifying power sources and empowering consumers to participate in the energy transition actively.

Upgrading the Grid

The previous electrical grid functions as a one-way street, where the power generated by utilities flows through a single path to reach consumers. But, upgrading technologies addresses these limitations and improves the grid’s functionality.

By incorporating multiple factors, such as bidirectional power flow, energy storage integration, and smart grid systems, these upgrades eliminate potential issues and enhance the grid’s capacity for efficient and reliable power distribution.

Home Electrification Technologies

Electrification customers may have mostly self-sufficient microgrids, but the utility grid is used for more than just a backup. The grid will also utilize consumer engagement through time-of-use and net metering practices. The grid can lower costs across the board during peak times of electrical usage by supplementing power with the electricity generated by the consumers through home electrification technologies such as solar or EVs.

In the past, larger utilities depended on less efficient power plants. However, technological advancements now enable power to be sourced from diverse alternatives beyond utilities. Nevertheless, to fully leverage these capabilities, it is imperative to establish a secondary pathway.

This second path means enabling the capabilities and upgrading infrastructure to accommodate and store newly generated power forms. The significance of these actions underpins the ability to embrace and harness the full potential of evolving energy sources while ensuring grid reliability and resilience.

Homeowners will likely look into net metering, an excellent incentive for those with inadequate battery storage. Electricity storage falls to the utilities purchasing that power back from the consumer, where infrastructure may need an upgrade.

Off-peak usage hours frequently align with peak charging hours for solar and wind electricity generation technologies, establishing consistent return paths to the grid as these technologies gain traction in residential settings. As consumers increasingly gravitate towards zero-emission technologies, their electricity can be efficiently stored, moderated, and distributed at optimal times per usage pattern. These seamless operations are made possible by implementing intelligent grid technology.

Distribution Intelligence

Distribution intelligence describes distribution systems integrated with smart technologies. Detection and distribution issues rely heavily on customer phone communication to determine which areas have power outages. The solution is manual switching that re-routes power through complex power schemes.

Outage response has been part of the smart grid since it began in the 1960s. Previously, the system was set with remote switching. The latest utility technologies combine communication data with sensors and processors to monitor and automate these systems. Monitoring them allows utilities to manually or automatically control their assets while remotely coordinating optimal distribution as necessary. Depending on the system’s reactivity, automatic controls could keep consumers from experiencing power disruptions.

Instead of routing power in a direct path, this allows for a more encompassing net. When inclement weather or sudden changes in demand cause those outages, the intelligent system can identify the problem location. The system can then actively re-route and restore power.

Asset Management

Distribution intelligence is one of the primary methods for asset management. Not only does this technology allow for the quick redirection of electricity, but it can also balance real and reactive power. Capacitors, coils, and motors can produce an excessive current that serves no purpose. That leaves the potential for wasted electricity production or even mechanical error.

A basic level of this reactive power is desirable with systems. Too much reactive power is cause for concern with efficiency and the possibility of system damage. Excess current will heat feeder wires which can burn them or cause relays or fuses to trip. Those shorts would regularly be indicative of faults. Industrial equipment can cause similar power spikes that can cause complications with those devices.

Monitoring the system with smart technology allows for detecting, correcting, and distinguishing them from non-faults. The ability to pinpoint weaknesses will allow for shorter downtimes and faster power re-routing through backup systems. Minimizing the risk of injury to any parties involved by more rapid response times to those locations is purely beneficial.

Technology Growth

The rapidly expanding market, driven by frequent technological advancements in the latest utilities technologies, presents opportunities and uncertainties in the utility sector’s installation processes, but Qmerit can help.

As a leader for electrification technologies and comprehensive services, Qmerit offers a team of electrification experts dedicated to monitoring grid reliability, electricity rate programs, and predicting the adoption of electrification technologies in various service territories.

Additionally, our network of certified installers can assist your customers looking to safely implement these technologies within their homes and businesses. Qmerit is the most trusted electrification services provider in North America and can help you support your customers and your grid and the world shift to a more sustainable, electric future.

By partnering with Qmerit, you can seamlessly connect all aspects of your grid and crucial utility metrics with a network qualified and vetted electrical contractors capable of providing safe, high-quality, and efficient turnkey implementation solutions. With a focus on grid technologies and asset management, we can enhance your grid reliability and sustainability while also reducing environmental impact.

Embracing these transformative initiatives is as straightforward as aligning with a trusted partner committed to delivering these outcomes. Contact Qmerit today and let’s work together to build more resilient communities.

Author: Tom Bowen Tom Bowen President, Qmerit Solutions and Commercial Electrification