Smart grids, smart meters and the importance of integrated communications


Conference: Smart Metering Canada 2007
Location: Toronto, Canada
Presenter: Jeff Tolnar
Abstract: Presented by Jeff Tolnar at Smart Metering Canada 2007

Over the years, significant investment was focused on generation and transmission assets while distribution was widely overlooked. The absence of an economical communications and sensing infrastructure that parallels the electrical infrastructure poses the single biggest challenge facing the electric utility distribution system and the introduction of a smart grid.

The truly smart grid is an overarching system rather than a set of individual applications. The system whole will be put in place over a number of years and in incremental steps.

Those steps must be taken carefully and with the broader vision in mind so that the utility and ultimately the consumer pays only once along the path.

The improved energy delivery and operational efficiency as promised by the smart grid ultimately depends upon building new types and levels of functionality into the power system. These needed capabilities will be “enabled” in the broadest sense by several innovations such as:

  • Deployment and integration of sensors and measurement tools

The traditional meter must be transformed into a consumer gateway that enables premise controls, price signals, communications, and network intelligence to flow back and forth through the 2-way energy/information portal. Transformation at the premise may be driven by meter replacements or by electronic supplements to meters like premise load controllers. In addition, advanced low cost sensors must be placed at strategic points along the distribution grid to deliver real time information.

  • Integrating communications

Interactive power systems require integrated communications with adequate capacity to deliver real-time information and power exchange commands.

  • Integrating distributed energy resources

The new system would also be able to seamlessly integrate an array of locally installed, distributed power generation devices (such as fuel cells and renewables) as power system assets.

  • Digital real-time monitoring and control systems

Electronic energy devices will be controlled through advanced systems fed by improved real-time monitoring devices and techniques. The systems will be enhanced by advanced decision support algorithms that will transform complex power system data into information that can be understood “at a glance” by operators.

A key systems component is to present information collected by the smart grid in a quick and meaningful way, which is useful to the operators, engineers, planners, and business personnel to better make more intelligent decisions regarding the grid.