We Need Stronger, Smarter Electrical Grids

We Need Stronger, Smarter Electrical Grids

The way we generate, deliver and use power must change drastically if we are to meet the needs of the 21st century.

On any given day in the United States, about half a million people are without power for two or more hours. Once hailed by the National Academy of Engineering as the most influential engineering innovation of the 20th century, the North American power grid operates with technology primarily from the 1960s and ’70s.

Weather Related Major Outages Have Increased

In recent decades the number and frequency of weather-related major outages have increased. Between the 1950s and ’80s, outages increased from two to five each year; from 2008 to 2012, outages increased to between 70 and 130 per year. Meanwhile, electricity needs are growing fast. Twitter alone adds more than 2,500 megawatt-hours of demand globally per year. It is projected that the world’s electricity supply will need to triple by 2050 to keep up with demand. That will require a significant commitment.

In the past decade electricity risk has increased due to aging infrastructure, lack of investment and policies conducive to modernization, and the threat posed by terrorism and climate change. As the climate changes, the variability of weather events has increased. We are going to see more extreme events. And we’ll see them with greater frequency. Hurricane Sandy appears to be an example of this.

In the aftermath of Sandy, questions were raised about power restoration in relation to extreme weather and climate change. It needs to be understood that a massive, physical assault on Hurricane Sandy’s scale is bound to overwhelm the power infrastructure, at least temporarily. No amount of money or technology can guarantee uninterrupted electric service under such circumstances.

We need a smarter grid that will effectively and securely meet demands of a pervasively digital society in the face of climate change and other extreme events while ensuring a high quality of life and fueling economic growth.It’s also important to remember that the U.S. is just beginning to adapt to a wider spectrum of risk. Cost-effective investments to reinforce the grid and support resilience will vary by region, by utility, by the legacy equipment involved, and even by the function and location of equipment within a utility’s service territory.

Electrical Grid Must Change Drastically

The electrical grid must change drastically. We need a smarter grid that will effectively and securely meet demands of a pervasively digital society in the face of climate change and other extreme events while ensuring a high quality of life and fueling economic growth. Such a grid would provide sufficient transmission capacity to link new natural gas generating plants, on-shore or offshore wind farms, solar plants and other renewables to customers. It would also function as a self-healing system, using digital components and real-time communications technologies to monitor its electrical characteristics at all times and constantly tune itself so that it operates at an optimum state, anticipates problems and is able to rapidly isolate parts of the network that experience failure from the rest of the system to avoid the spread of disruption and enable more rapid restoration.

To transform our current infrastructure into a self-healing smart grid, several technologies must be deployed and integrated. The ideal smart grid system consists of microgrids — which are small, mostly self-sufficient power systems — and a stronger, smarter high-voltage power grid, which serves as the backbone to the overall system and makes it possible to integrate substantially increased amounts of wind and renewable resources. With a stronger and smart grid, 40 percent of our electricity in the U.S. can come from wind by 2030, which will substitute in part for fossil fuels currently used for electricity and transportation.

Replacing Traditional Analog Technologies With Digital Components

Upgrading the grid infrastructure for self-healing capabilities requires replacing traditional analog technologies with digital components, software processors and power electronics technologies. These must be installed throughout a system so that it can be digitally controlled, which is the key ingredient to a grid that is self-monitoring and self-healing.

Much of the technology and systems thinking behind self-healing power grids comes from the military aviation sector, where I worked for 14 years on damage-adaptive flight systems for F-15 aircraft, optimizing logistics and studying the survival of squadrons and mission effectiveness. In January 1998, when I joined the Electric Power Research Institute, I helped bring these concepts to electricity power systems and other critical infrastructure networks, including energy, water, telecommunications and finance. Following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, resilience and security has become even more important.

Smarter Grid Would Save Billions Per Year

A smarter grid would reduce costs of outages by about $49 billion per year, and reduce CO2 emissions by 12–18 percent by 2030.

The cost of a smarter grid would depend on how much instrumentation you actually put in, such as the communications backbone, enhanced security and increased resilience. The total price tag ranges around $340 billion to $480 billion, which, over a 20-year period, would be around $20 billion to $25 billion per year. But right off the bat, the benefits are $70 billion per year in increased efficiency and reduced costs from outages, and on a year in which there are lots of hurricanes, ice storms and other disturbances, that benefit goes even further. Currently, outages from all sources cost the U.S. economy $80 billion to $188 billion annually. A smarter grid would reduce costs of outages by about $49 billion per year, and reduce CO2 emissions by 12–18 percent by 2030. In addition, it would increase system efficiency by over 4 percent — that’s another $20.4 billion per year.

The costs cover a wide variety of enhancements to bring the power delivery system to the performance levels required for a smart grid. They include the infrastructure to integrate distributed energy resources and achieve full customer connectivity, but don’t include the cost of generation, the cost of transmission expansion to add renewables and to meet load growth, or the customers’ costs for smart-grid-ready appliances and devices. Despite the costs of implementation, investing in the grid would pay for itself, to a great extent. With the actual investment, for every dollar, the return is about $2.80 to $6 to the broader economy. And this figure is very conservative.

But this is also about 1) increased cyber/IT security, and overall energy security, with security built into the design as part of a layered defense system architecture, and 2) job creation and economic benefits. Indeed, in my view, our 21st century digital economy depends on us making these investments, regardless of the prognosis for more extreme weather to come as our climate changes.

Wasted 15 Years Arguing About The Role Of Government

We’ve wasted 15 years arguing about the roles of the public and private sectors while our global competitors adapt and innovate.As evidence for the economic argument, consider the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act government stimulus plan funding and matching support from utilities and the private sector in the Smart Grid Investment Grant and Smart Grid Demonstration Project programs. As of March 2012, the total invested value of $2.96 billion to support smart grid projects generated at least $6.8 billion in total economic output. Overall, about 47,000 full-time equivalent jobs were supported by investments. For every $1 million of direct spending, the GDP increased by $2.5 million to $2.6 million.

We’ve wasted 15 years arguing about the roles of the public and private sectors while our global competitors adapt and innovate. We need to renew public-private partnerships, cut red tape and reduce the cloud of uncertainty on the return on investment of modernizing infrastructure. When the nation has made such strategic commitments in the past, the payoffs have been huge. Think of the interstate highway system, the lunar landing project and the Internet.

Meeting each of those challenges has produced world-leading economic growth by enabling commerce, technology development and a mix of the two. In the process we’ve developed a highly trained, adaptive workforce. Now, we must decide whether to build electric power and energy infrastructures that support a 21st century’s digital society, or be left behind as a 20th century industrial relic.

This article originally appeared on Ensia

About The Author

amin massoudMassoud Amin serves as the H.W. Sweatt Chair in Technological Leadership, directs the Technological Leadership Institute (TLI)  and is a University Distinguished Teaching Professor and a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Minnesota. He works on enabling smart, secure and resilient infrastructures. He leads extensive projects in smart grids, is the chairman of the IEEE Smart Grid, and is considered the father of smart grid.

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

LATEST VIDEOS

The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
by Super User
The climate crisis is forcing thousands around the world to flee as their homes become increasingly uninhabitable.
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
by Alan N Williams, et al
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that without a substantial decrease…
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
by Toby Tyrrell
It took evolution 3 or 4 billion years to produce Homo sapiens. If the climate had completely failed just once in that…
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
by Brice Rea
The end of the last ice age, around 12,000 years ago, was characterised by a final cold phase called the Younger Dryas.…
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
by Frank Wesselingh and Matteo Lattuada
Imagine you are on the coast, looking out to sea. In front of you lies 100 metres of barren sand that looks like a…
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
by Richard Ernst
We can learn a lot about climate change from Venus, our sister planet. Venus currently has a surface temperature of…
Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
The Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
by John Cook
This video is a crash course in climate misinformation, summarizing the key arguments used to cast doubt on the reality…
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
by Julie Brigham-Grette and Steve Petsch
Every year, sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean shrinks to a low point in mid-September. This year it measures just 1.44…

LATEST ARTICLES

green energy2 3
Four Green Hydrogen Opportunities for the Midwest
by Christian Tae
To avert a climate crisis, the Midwest, like the rest of the country, will need to fully decarbonize its economy by…
ug83qrfw
Major Barrier to Demand Response Needs to End
by John Moore, On Earth
If federal regulators do the right thing, electricity customers across the Midwest may soon be able to earn money while…
trees to plant for climate2
Plant These Trees To Improve City Life
by Mike Williams-Rice
A new study establishes live oaks and American sycamores as champions among 17 “super trees” that will help make cities…
north sea sea bed
Why We Must Understand Seabed Geology To Harness The Winds
by Natasha Barlow, Associate Professor of Quaternary Environmental Change, University of Leeds
For any country blessed with easy access to the shallow and windy North Sea, offshore wind will be key to meeting net…
3 wildfire lessons for forest towns as Dixie Fire destroys historic Greenville, California
3 wildfire lessons for forest towns as Dixie Fire destroys historic Greenville, California
by Bart Johnson, Professor of Landscape Architecture, University of Oregon
A wildfire burning in hot, dry mountain forest swept through the Gold Rush town of Greenville, California, on Aug. 4,…
China Can Meet Energy and Climate Goals Capping Coal Power
China Can Meet Energy and Climate Goals Capping Coal Power
by Alvin Lin
At the Leader’s Climate Summit in April, Xi Jinping pledged that China will “strictly control coal-fired power…
Blue water surrounded by dead white grass
Map tracks 30 years of extreme snowmelt across US
by Mikayla Mace-Arizona
A new map of extreme snowmelt events over the last 30 years clarifies the processes that drive rapid melting.
A plane drops red fire retardant on to a forest fire as firefighters parked along a road look up into the orange sky
Model predicts 10-year burst of wildfire, then gradual decline
by Hannah Hickey-U. Washington
A look at the long-term future of wildfires predicts an initial roughly decade-long burst of wildfire activity,…

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.