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Smart Electricity Grid

The term “Smart Grid” came from the US Department of Energy’s Smart Grid Initiative. It defines Smart Grid as an integrated communication infrastructure that uses advanced sensing communications and control technologies to generate and distribute electricity more effectively, economically and securely. The electric utility industry considers an electric grid to be smart when consumers can adjust the quantity of power being consumed in response to the availability of electricity (Demand Response) and the grid can draw on a broader range of power generation options (Microgrids).

As it matches far more closely the demand and supply of electricity a smart grid is distinctly different from the measurement of power consumed (Automated Meter Reading) or remote administration over an individual electricity consumer’s access to the electric grid and/or the price per KWh consumed based on aggregate demand (Automated Meter Infrastructure).

Demand Resonse
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) defines demand response as, “an action taken to reduce electricity demand in response to price, monetary incentives, or utility directives so as to maintain reliable electric service or avoid high electricity prices”

Microgrids Value Proposition
The enormous capital cost and time required to add renewable generation assets as well as, in many cases, the need to build additional transmission infrastructure leads the utility to build local plants within the distribution grid. In so doing the utility disaggregates the distribution grid into a series of microgrids.  Research commissioned by the Department of Energy-Office of Electricity  Delivery and Energy Reliability (DOE-OE) and the California Energy Commission found that microgrids could reduce both the cost and volatility of energy production as well as helping to manage the intermittency of renewables and promoting the deployment and integration of energy-efficient electric appliances. However the decision to employ microgrids creates enormous need for reliable communications for successful synchronization. Providing the utility this reliable telecom access leaves it easily able to focus on adding grid management tools for line loss reduction; remote connect, disconnect; transformer, capacitor, monitoring and transformer load management.

Smart Grids and Rural Telecom
To achieve the full potential for microgrids, distributed generation and direct load control, a pervasive communications wide area network (WAN) must be in place to allow the administrator of the power distribution grid to monitor, measure and control usage in real time. Assuming a utility funds the telecom network required for grid automation they must provide Internet access anywhere there is a meter. This need makes Smart Grids the anchor application for rural communities because it has the potential to enable Broadband everywhere.

Also see the FERC Demand Response page for more information.