No more blackouts?

Posted on October 9, 2009  /  1 Comments

This comprehensive report on smart grid developments seems most pertinent as Sri Lanka recovers from another nationwide blackout caused by the inability of the state owned monopolist to manage its grid (and to restore power despite repeated attempts). Of course, smart grids are not simply about reducing blackouts; they can reduce the massive waste caused by T&D losses and also introduce time-sensitive pricing to reduce peak-load demand. LIRNEasia has its eye on the intersection of energy and ICT as future area of work.

WHAT was the greatest engineering achievement of the 20th century? The motor car, perhaps, or the computer? In 2000 America’s National Academy of Engineering gave a different answer: “the vast networks of electrification”. These, the academy concluded, made most of the century’s other advances possible.

But whereas cars, computers and so forth have become ever more sophisticated, power grids have remained, in essence, sets of dumb wires. Thomas Edison, a pioneer of electrification in the 1880s, would be able to run them. Power is fed into the grid from power stations in the hope that it will arrive in factories, offices and homes. To this day most utilities rely on consumers to tell them that the power is out—and may then have to put in a lot of detective work to discover the cause.

This may be changing at last. A global movement is afoot to make grids “smart”. This means adding all kinds of information technology, such as sensors, digital meters and a communications network akin to the internet, to the dumb wires. Among other things, a smart grid would be able to avoid outages, save energy and help other green undertakings, such as electric cars and distributed generation.

1 Comment

  1. Sriganesh Lokanathan

    But as this specific brief as well as the accompanying piece point out, appropriate policies and regulations are imperative to take advantage of smart grids. Clearly this has to be tied to realigning incentives for both the consumer as well as the utilities (in general there is more incentive for utilities to pump out more electricity than less)

    The first area in need of change is how utilities are compensated. An electric utility’s revenue is tied primarily to the amount of power it sells. That was fine 50 years ago, in a world with seemingly unlimited resources and little evidence of climate change, but not today. As it stands, utilities have little motivation, if any, to encourage customers to find ways to reduce demand or to practice energy efficiency themselves—two core tenets of the smart-grid vision.