What makes a smart grid so smart?

16 February 2015

You may have heard the term ‘smart grid’ and wondered what it means...

Well, put simply, smart grids bring computer technology to a standard electricity grid; allowing easier communication between energy retailers, distributors, and customers.

Smart grids are considered ‘smart’ because:

  • They support renewable technologies. Smart grids can help to integrate an increasing amount of renewable energy generation into the grid. 
    Renewable energy sources present a challenge to traditional electricity grids because they are often both intermittent and difficult to predict. For example, solar needs the sun to shine and wind energy needs the wind to blow.
  • They manage ‘moves’ and ‘outages’. Smart grids help network companies to remotely anticipate and respond to problems so repair crews from your local distributor can fix power outages faster. 
  • They can empower consumers. Smart meters can work in tandem with smart grids to give customers access to near real-time information about their energy consumption and, in turn, understand and control it better. 

Changing demand for electricity and consumers’ desire for ways to better manage energy use and costs are prompting the need for a more sophisticated ‘smart’ electricity grid. 

How we arrived at this need

While Australia’s electricity consumption growth has slowed in recent years, it’s predicted to increase in the future. Peak electricity demand (times when electricity demand is at its highest) is growing at a faster rate than overall consumption and is increasingly a challenge for the grid.

The Renewable Energy Target and climate change goals are also changing the country’s electricity generation mix.

Some of this will come from households generating electricity themselves (for example, with rooftop solar panels) but the majority will come from large-scale generators, such as wind farms. These types of renewable energy sources create new and increasingly complex demands on the electricity system. 

The benefits of smart grids

Smart grids can benefit the environment, the community, and the consumer:

  • Environmentally, they can smooth power demand to take advantage of intermittent renewable energy supply, plus they allow more efficient integration of electricity generated from on-site solar panels back into the grid. 
  • From the community perspective, smart grids will mean fewer and shorter outages due to enhanced network monitoring, plus better use of the network infrastructure, which will delay further investment and help to stabilise power bills.
  • Finally, smart grids offer access to near real-time information so that consumers can analyse and better manage their energy use. They also offer the opportunity to take advantage of smart home technology, allowing consumers to control appliances remotely and take advantages of off-peak prices.

 

Read more about smart homes and how they work together with smart grids.