Thursday, September 1, 2011

A "Smart" Grid or an "Instrumented" Grid?

I'm seeing a lot of discussion that indicates that there is some degree of confusion on what "Smart Grid" is.

To some, "Smart Grid" means that there is more real-time monitoring of events in the grid, with more resources (generation, storage, demand response) located within the grid, all under fairly centralized control.  Lots of data and instructions being generated and communicated, so that the grid can be managed in a way that is more efficient.  This is pretty much the way things are now, except the centralized control structure is smarter about the grid than it used to be, and has more resources to control.

That's an improvement over what is, but it isn't a "Smart Grid," because the Grid isn't any smarter.

So what is "Smart Grid?"  When does the grid become smart?

The Grid becomes Smart when it gains the ability to autonomously observe and respond to local conditions.  In short, the Grid gains intelligence.  This doesn't mean that centralized control or existing protection systems go away, but it does mean that they may have less to respond to.

It can be (and has been) argued that the grid already has this kind of intelligence.  Synchrophasors, generators, and SCADA systems already respond to things like voltage and frequency changes.

True, at the Generation and Transmission level. But where the rubber meets the road, and where the problems that these facilities have to respond to is at the distribution level.  Move intelligence closer to (and even into) the load.

Fix voltage and frequency fluctuations where they begin, at the load (which now becomes a resource, since it can respond to local conditions.)

That, is a "Smart Grid" everything else is just "SCADA on steroids", and we all know what happens on steroids...

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