The Smart Grid – What It Is, Why It Matters and Who’s Leading It

Oct 18, 2016

What Is the “Smart Grid”?

In an earlier blog post, Southwire examined the Industrial Internet of Things. Like the Internet of Things, the Smart Grid concept Mark Lancaster, Director of Inteligent Grid and Energy Solutions here at Southwire, says, “the Smart Grid is the addition of innovative solutions to make the power grid more reliable and robust.  By making the components of the grid more intelligent, the grid can tell the utility about potential problems and even fix some of the problems automatically.”

By applying innovative sensing and monitoring technologies to grid components such as wires and cables, switches, transformers and even wooden poles, utilities can now “see” parts of the grid that were hidden before.  Today’s Smart Grid devices transmit reliability, security, power distribution and energy efficiency data, providing utilities with more information than they’ve ever had before. The goal is to make certain grid components visible to the utility to help them make better operational, maintenance, and asset management decisions.

What are the Benefits of the Smart Grid?

With additional technology and upgraded infrastructure, the Grid can better resist outages and is more secure. Maintenance cost are reduced making the Grid more cost effective for ratepayers. The Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Resiliency explains the federal goals for Smart Grid improvements “to ensure that all Americans benefit from investments in the Nation's electric infrastructure:

  1. Better alignment of economic incentives to boost development and deployment of smart-grid technologies;
  2. A greater focus on standards and interoperability to enable greater innovation;
  3. Empowerment of consumers with enhanced information to save energy, ensure privacy, and shrink bills; and
  4. Improved grid security and resilience.”

Who are the Leaders in Grid Modernization?

Developing the Smart Grid requires significant upgrades to current equipment and technologies. A 2016 GridWise Alliance study used a robust methodology to score each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia on the extent of their grid modernization, including state support for modern utility policy, customer engagement and enhanced operations. The top 10 scoring states have strong support from their state legislature and leadership around modernization policy, emissions reduction targets, consumer education and outreach and key performance metrics associated with progress. Often, this support is accompanied by incentives or mandates for energy storage and renewables.

The Top 10 performers in the GridWise Alliance study include California; Illinois; Texas; Maryland; Delaware; Washington, DC; Oregon; Arizona; Pennsylvania and Georgia. The utilities in these states are leveraging the data they collect by running sophisticated analytics systems and gathering metrics from sensors and equipment to improve service, efficiency, reliability and billing. In addition, their states are pressing policy incentives and mandates for improved use of renewables and more effective customer engagement.

Where are the Opportunities?

As utilities learn to process the large amounts of data these intelligent systems provide, they are finding new and unexpected ways to improve the Grid.  The learnings at the leading adopters are encouraging other utilities to look at how these new technologies can benefit their customers.

As these technologies mature, software platforms are emerging to help manage data and analytics, opportunities for innovative solutions increase, and the need for substantial infrastructure improvement presents opportunities for utility suppliers and contractors.

You can learn more about Southwire’s Technology & Innovation, including our innovative Intelligent Grid technologies, in our 2015 Sustainability Report.