The Power of Smart Grids
On August 14 2003, more than 50 million people in Northeastern and Midwestern North America were thrust into darkness during the largest blackout to ever hit North America. The widespread power outage spanned eight US states and the province of Ontario. It was caused by a software bug in the alarm system of a control room in an Ohio-based energy corporation. Operators were unaware of the need to re-distribute power after overloaded transmission lines hit nearby foliage. This incident triggered a series of events that caused the electrical grid to collapse within nine seconds, leaving millions without power on one of the hottest days of the summer.
Every day, we rely on power that is distributed and managed through an electrical grid – networks that carry electricity from the plants where it is generated to the consumer.
It is comprised of generating stations that produce power; transmission lines or cables that transmit energy; transformers and substations that change the voltage of an electric current; and switches that help to shift and balance energy loads.
With increasing demands on the electrical grid and a changing energy landscape, traditional grid architecture, equipment and approaches no longer address the energy needs of those they serve. And when this critical infrastructure fails, it can lead to power disruptions and outages that bring routine activities and critical services to a halt.
This has given rise to the smart grid – a computerized electricity management and distribution system. Smart grids capitalize on digital technologies such as:
- Sensor-based voltage meters, fault detectors and analytic tools that gather data and monitor the grid;
- Software that enables the remote control of the grid and streamlines management processes;
- Automation technologies that manage energy distribution in accordance with demand;
- Wireless and communication technologies that facilitate two-way communication between devices in the field and the utility network operations centre; and
- Advanced systems that put renewable sources of energy (such as hydro, solar and wind power) to work in the grid, helping to reduce carbon emissions.
Today, the traditional grid is primarily a vehicle for moving electricity from generators to consumers. Tomorrow, the smart grid will enable two-way flows of electricity and information as technology makes new forms of electricity production, delivery and use possible. Smart grids promise to deliver significant economic, social and environmental benefits to utility companies, their customers and society more broadly. These include improved grid efficiency and control; increased use of renewable energy; reduced energy consumption; and fewer power outages.
To help Québec capitalize on the potential of these powerful technologies, Equation is enabling innovative projects on smart grids and related technologies.