Smart Grid Basics

Read this primer on smart grid basics.  Then this.  And this.  Then read this guy's column on US-China efforts to revolutionize U.S. cities.  Here's a more comprehensive piece on the grid and the need to smarten and harden it.  And here's a cool video.  Plus a "European Super Grid" conceptualization.

Possibly the most intriguing and useful trend: Integrating WiFi technology into home appliances so that manufacturers can dial in and diagnose problems.  More importantly, the appliances can be programmed to hibernate and run when the smart grid tells them to, so that customers can optimize Time of Use pricing and the grid itself can level out demand/consumption for greater grid stability.  More on that here.

The Big Money seems to be in smart grid optimization on a macro scale.  Click here for macro-scale analysis, and here for smaller, city-scale concepts.  And here for New York's very interesting conceptualization, which my grid operator friend analyzes as follows:

Seems reasonable. Sounds like they're making an educated guess about where to start the process of more broadly integrating the system. Personally I'd just start with more real time prices... If we made dynamic prices mandatory for Large and even Medium sized Customers (medium = Walmart) we should get all this stuff like demand response, targeted efficiency, more PV, storage and so on as a natural result - should being the operative word...  IF the dynamic pricing roll out for the Large and Medium sized Customers worked then it might be cost effective to sift dynamic pricing into the smaller commercial customers and the residential customers. In general I don't think we need to put a regulated price on things like demand response or efficiency because the end-user will put their own price on the savings/convenience delivered by these resources.  We will however have to put some sort of price on excess feed - this is something that is rapidly approaching. I'm for something like your setup (8 cents/kWh as a base) but I'd like to see the contract lengths be in the 5 to 10 year range - the customer could cancel these contracts without penalty but the utility couldn't. 

Dynamic pricing isn't going to solve the whole problem but I think it's a critical component of the final solution. Ultimately we'll need more communication and information processing abilities in the future so a DSO makes perfect sense... I could see parts of this DSO function eventually being performed in the room I work in. 

This fellow talks about how electricity storage must be integrated with any smart grid scheme, but he never does say how to
facilitate cost-feasible electricity storage.  Brazil is attempting a program aimed at achieving that.  There are smart grid risks, too.

A subset of smart grids is microgrids, which are projected to bring solar power to vasts portions of the world where no grid at all exists.   Click here. I asked a grid-operator friend what the investment  and ecological upside is for micro-grids in the USA.  Here's his response:

Grids are stronger by being interconnected. If you have two identical but separate grids, A & B, side by side they'll both need to carry X reserves (insurance). If you interconnect the two grids you'll have to carry less than 2X in reserves. If there's an accident that takes down a power plant, would you rather have that power plant be connected to a regional grid or a supra-regional grid? The supra-regional grid can take a bigger punch and not get knocked down. Mini-grids may sound like a cool idea but for day to day steady state operations a sectionalized system is less stable than an interconnected system. 

If we're talking about a mini-grid in Africa or India or wherever that's a different ball of wax - there's no other option. They're going through what we went through here 100 years ago. Mini-grids are a great idea for them but as soon as they can they'll probably want to interconnect those mini-grids to increase the stability of the system and reduce costs. 
Smart Grid Innovations Will Reduce the Pain of Consumer Energy Costs
Here's a column on smart meters.  Here's another.

And here's a website called Smart Grid News.Com.

A 1200 mile, $26 billion Supergrid -- in Japan, that would deliver  60% of Japan's needs via renewable energy.

Easily the most intriguing and smart Smart Grid Plan ("Marshall Plan for China") I've ever read.

"Making the Smart Grid Smarter"   --  and here's a cool video about that product, but note my grid operator friend's reaction to it here.

DC vs. AC grid concepts

Microgrids ("A wide range of electricity users are demonstrating strong demand for power generation and distribution systems that can be operated independently from the utility grid. A few of the market drivers include concerns about grid reliability, rising costs of fuel, broader availability of distributed generation technologies, and a drop in prices for some nontraditional energy sources such as solar photovoltaic systems.").

Here is something from my friend Photomofo:

Hello Chris:

Here is a story about how much it will cost Germany to upgrade their distribution grids to integrate 50 to 70 GW of solar. They are currently at 28 GW or so. It's in German but if you use a brower that translates the page it's readable. The estimate they give is 1 billion Euros to allow for the integration of 10 to 12% PV. This is surprisingly cheap for a country the size of Germany. 

Hi Chris

The UK, as I understand it, has a very interesting policy when it comes to their Feed-in Tariff. You get the full tariff even if you use the electricity on-site. So guess what? People want to use the electricity on site as much as possible. This policy cannot last long but it may help kick-start the energy management industry there.  Here's a new product offering that helps with energy management. 

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