Utility Infrastructure Needs: Working Toward the Smart Grid

Not new to change, utilities companies have been evolving since their origination. From simple grids to massive ones that must power cities with populations in the millions, utility infrastructure is in a constant state of flux with modernization always a high priority. However, it can be challenging for industries reliant on infrastructure to remain in step with 21st century technology. But utilities must adapt, evolve, and invest to keep pace in 2018 and beyond.

Grid Modernization

The smart grid is the future of utility infrastructure, and utilities stand to benefit greatly from modernized grids. Grid modernization can enable better security, reduced peak loads, and lower costs. The modernization of grids is also getting a push by the government with the Grid Modernization Multi-Year Program Plan (MYPP), an initiative developed by the Department of Energy (DOE) to inject smart technology and better resilience into grids. The goal of the MYPP is for grid equipment and controls to communicate in a manner that the Internet of Things (IoT) has created. If these elements can communicate, when power outages occur, less time and manpower will be required for repairs. This communication can also enable real-time responses while increasing reliability.

Clean Energy

Beneficial for both the planet and its inhabitants, the integration of clean energy into a utility’s existing infrastructure is a trend that continues to gain momentum. While concerns related to stability and scalability initially plagued the clean energy concept, today, a fifth of the world’s electricity is produced by renewable energy, as disclosed by the World Economic Forum.[1]

Yet, integration isn’t simple. There are differences in how renewable installations are constructed versus traditional power sources. This combination of energy efforts requires smart grid technology, and storage solutions for produced energy will need to be developed to balance the renewable load. Because clean energy demand across the world is on the rise, utility companies will have to make prudent infrastructure solutions that work for old and new forms of energy production, particularly in areas where grids are considered “ancient”. Adaptability will be the key to future success.

New Grid Development Will Take Substantial Investment

While technology and energy production have seen heavy investment by utilities, infrastructure has not evolved concurrently, suffering from a lack of funding. This failing infrastructure impedes efforts to provide for the rising demand in cleaner, cheaper energy as well. As a result, grid infrastructure handling transmission and distribution is poised for a major update and upgrade. To remain competitive and meet energy demands, a considerable increase in expenditure must occur. Thus, its imperative that utilities connect infrastructure upgrades to their revenue models, sooner rather than later.

Smart Grids

The smart grid is the future for utilities, providing connectivity to stay relevant in our modern world. Smart grids are good for all stakeholders, delivering benefits like:

  • Efficient power distribution
  • Quick response to outages
  • Lower utilities operating costs (less labor needed for customer service or other functions)
  • Active demand response (allowing interaction with customers to better manage load curve)
  • Integration of clean energy

While smart grids provide excellent benefits, utilities must accelerate modernization initiatives, including the incorporation of sensor technology to monitor and control the grid and all its elements, smart meters, and uniform adoption of procedures relating to balancing, active demand management, and more.

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[1] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/01/clean-energy-renewable-growth-sustainable-key-trends/