US: Smart grids can reduce vulnerabilities to natural calamities, observed Boyd Cohen, co-author of Climate Capitalism: Capitalism in the Age of Climate Change.
Cohen explained smart grids enable real-time digital transmission of data regarding grid performance, locations of problem areas and mechanisms for redistributing energy. They are also commonly accompanied by enhanced ability to ‘plug-in’ multiple energy sources including distributed energy. For example, green buildings with solar panels can not only receive energy from the grid but easily return excess energy (e.g. on a weekend when no one is working in the building) back to the smart grid.
Citing an example of ComEd (Commonwealth Edison), an energy company serving nearly 4 million customers in Northern Illinois, Cohen said, “During devastating storm in June if smart grid technology had been in place, ComEd would have pinpointed outages and dispatched crews more quickly to restore service. Digital automation would have rerouted power or corrected a problem before an outage occurs meaning fewer customers would have seen outages and thousands of customers may have never experienced an outage.”
Cohen observed that smart grids pose major benefits to economies and societies. They can allow for more diverse and distributed energy supplies to assist with growing demand for energy. For example, the European Union seeks to develop a regional smart grid that would allow different forms of intermittent renewables, such as wind from the north and solar from the south, to be plugged into the grid. This can allow energy to flow where it is needed most. Smart grids can also play an important role in the electrification of transportation system. Electric Vehicles (EVs) can be plugged into smart grids and be charged during low demand times and actually feed energy back to grid during peak times. Imagine how much EVs could contribute if all manufacturers followed Ford’s recent inclusion of solar panels as an option on their EVs.
Cohen added smart grids pose a significant opportunity to modernise energy distribution systems in ways that accommodate new energy sources and importantly minimise the impacts from major weather events. As Luke Clemente from GE stated following severe storms in Georgia in 2010, “Managing the inconvenience and danger of power outages caused by storms like the ones we are experiencing this week is a great challenge for the utility industry. As Mother Nature turns out the lights across the country, we are reminded of the broader impact that a smarter grid can have on consumers. Today’s smart grid solutions can reduce the number of customers affected by power outages and minimise the impact of outages that do occur by getting power online quicker than ever before.”
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