Smart grid on a shoestring

23. April 2012 17:53

Smart grid technology can deliver improvements in reliability and efficiency--on the cheap

There's a standing joke in the utility industry about smart grid, namely that if you ask ten people what the term "smart grid" means you’ll get twelve different answers.

Mainstream media reports typically focus on smart meters and home automation—things that touch the consumer. However much of the benefit smart grid technology can provide is on the utility side of the meter, but these benefits directly impact consumers just the same.

Such is the case with fault detection, isolation and restoration (FDIR) and volt-VAr optimization (VVO). The technical terms obscure the very real benefits these schemes can deliver in the form of greater reliability (read: shorter outages and less of them) and increased efficiency (i.e., providing the same electricity service at lower cost).

In fact, there is now ample data that shows FDIR can reduce outage length and frequency by up to 30% and VVO can reduce line losses by 7%, which in turn means the utility needs to generate or procure 3-6% less power to provide the same level of service.

In dollar terms, FDIR deployments can expect to generate $1.80 in benefits for every dollar spent over a six to eight year planning horizon. For VVO the figure is $2.60, and simple monitoring and diagnostic systems can yield an incredible $6 or more per dollar invested.

The kicker is that these technologies can be deployed at any scale, so you don’t need to commit to a multi-million dollar project. A pilot FDIR scheme on a single feeder, for example, can be implemented for as little as $35,000. This makes it possible for utilities to apply smart grid technologies in small doses, see how they work, and then deploy them across larger areas knowing that they have a rock solid business case.

Take that to your next PUC meeting.

 

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