Smart Grid - Enabling Energy Conservation
It is important that we strive to make the most of available energy by thinking up mechanisms of improving energy efficiency by enabling control and analysis both from the supply side (power plant improvement, transmission equipment improvement, energy auditing etc.) and demand side (demand management control, optimization through automation/sensors, efficient equipment installation in the last mile of energy usage - low consumption devices etc.). Intel CTO of Datacentre and Connected Systems Group and senior fellow Steve Pawlowski predicts that sometime in future, sensors that harvest energy from the environment will be all-around us, that are self-configuring and self-healing.
Concerns of wasted power in the face of increasing demand for energy has led to serious deliberations around the objectives of the world's power systems. (India's power transmission and distribution losses for 2011 is considered to be between 25 and 30 per cent of total power generated).Thoughts have been primarily around marrying digital systems with hitherto power analogue systems. The concept of Smart Grid is a result of such a thought process where electrical power systems use digital information to monitor supplier and consumer behavior in an automated fashion. In a more localized set up, Smart Grid allows power distributors to monitor end customers power usage patterns and in case of overloading, the consumer can be instructed to switch of a particular appliance (this could be automated too, if the consumer has signed up for such a feature). Another use case is to divide times of the day into sections where customers may have to pay premium prices for energy consumption during times of the day when energy consumption is maximized (for example, morning hours of a working day in typical Indian cities) thus generating revenue for power utility companies. This can also enable reduction in overall demand on the grid by encouraging people to save money by shifting to off peak times.
Smart Grids enable integration of utilities or green and renewable energy resources as one thus enabling generation of energy at various points of the energy distribution cycle.Wind, solar and hydel mechanisms are some diverse ways of harnessing energy. While the harnessing of wind, solar and hydel energy are common and more cost-effective, they would need to be controlled and operated differently because they are highly variable. End consumers harnessing solar energy can contribute excess harnessed energy to the distribution system - and realize some benefits thereof. Such contributions to the distribution system can help reduce overall demand on the grid.
In the backdrop of the massive power breakdown that affected many states in India this year, if a Smart Grid system were in place, that would probably have enabled monitoring and shedding automatically of only those segments that were overdrawing. Those segments could have been brought back into grids once the distributing system of the concerned state corrected the faults. Sensors could be used to detect deviations and fluctuations and provide signals to the monitoring system for areas to be isolated.
For the consumer, a Smart Grid would mean meters installed in the home that can be read automatically over the network. The Smart Meter includes a display that conveys the current rate of electricity use at programmed intervals. Smart Plugs are used between the electrical socket and the appliance being connected. They are also intelligent in providing updates about the current, voltage and power being drawn by the appliance to a PC communicating over networks like Zigbee for example. Such sockets can be controlled (switch on/off) using software. RIA based solutions enable a customer to view power consumption trends in his house remotely on his smartphone, tablet, laptop or PC at work or during travel. He can remotely switch off such sockets using facilities in applications running on his smartphone/tablet or PC based on his analysis or based on information from the distributor (via an SMS for example) as regards appliances in his house overdrawing during peak consumption periods. Consumers can also move towards installing smart appliances, that can automatically shut off in response to fluctuations that are potentially damaging.
Smart Grid is indeed garnering a lot of attention.In India, Bangalore's BESCOM has approved India's first Smart Grid system that is being deployed in Electronics City - the place where Infosys is based out of. Considering that Bangalore's uninhibited development and growing populace is also leading to dangerously fast depletion of water resources (ground water levels in many parts of the city are already alarmingly low), the drivers for Smart Grid technology in water conversation is compelling. There is a need to move to smart technology solutions to ensure more efficient water systems. The hope is that this will be a trigger for wider implementation which would enable a more responsible consumer attitude towards energy conservation in India.