By Alan Snook, GRID20/20
The global evolution of smart cities is gaining tremendous momentum. Leaders are actively embracing the concept of revitalizing cities from a perspective of sustainability. Times are changing and metro-dwellers are realizing the value of combining green technology, infrastructure revitalization and collaborative decision-making among city authorities.
There are many segments within the smart cities initiative that require attention. From transportation, to safety, to human services, to infrastructure, to utilities; the list is vast. Like any large project, the solution is to break the task into manageable pieces. This requires engagement and input from a broad group of experts. While I cannot speak to all of the pieces involved with smart cities, I can address a meaningful portion of the electric utility space.
Concerning the electric distribution grid, "information is power"….in fact, using a slightly different twist to this ageless adage: "Information is reliable, cost-effective, renewable power."
A massive information hole
The smart meter deployment bell curve is well on the declining side. Power substations have been remarkably well equipped to efficiently monitor and control at the distribution grid injection point. Yet, there remains a massive information hole within the electric grid. And without a solution to extract the missing information, our 'power' is less reliable, less cost-effective, and fewer renewables will be blended into the system. Without consistent, accurate, actionable information from within the heart of the distribution grid, smart cities will still not be ‘smart’ when it comes to electricity.
Clearly, the next step in the smart grid evolution is the addition of sensors within the heart of the grid, and timely extraction of key data. Yes, this information is power. And, this information is powerful. One sensor provider has already delivered 10 million intra-grid data reads to utilities. That is power!
Transforming our aging grid
As intra-grid sensors are added within distribution networks, a host of benefits ensue. The well-publicized aging electric infrastructure is immediately transformed. With historic and real-time data streaming from within the heart of the grid, smart cities will gain many benefits:
- Proactively locate failing transformers to prevent costly, disruptive power outages
- Proactively locate power theft occurrences which exceeds $6 billion annually in the U.S. alone
- Proactively enable power conservation practices to lessen generation costs and carbon emission
- Proactively identify malfunctioning street lights which waste power and precious funds
- Proactively accelerate power restoration efforts by utilities to lessen safety and cost impacts
- Proactively monitor grid instability caused by solar rooftop and wind renewable sources
- Proactively identify under-sized transformers due to electric vehicle chargers and power theft
For electric utility providers to truly achieve a smart grid, they need precise information. The last untapped segment of the grid is the dynamic span between substations and endpoint meters. And the emerging intra-grid sensors will remediate this need in the immediate future. Recent industry experts predict sensors to grow at a rate of 36% annually through 2021 becoming a $350 million annual market. As smart cities welcome the idea of delivering more efficient, more reliable and less costly power to their constituents, intra-grid sensors will indeed become a staple solution.
For smart cities to emerge and sustain, information is key. In fact, "Information is Power."
Alan Snook is a founding member of GRID20/20, Inc. and has led the company as its president since its inception in March 2011. GRID20/20 is a Council Associate Partner.