Power outages and heat waves: So where's the smart grid when we need it?

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The storms that hit the East Coast a week ago, leaving millions without power as temperatures soared, have plenty wondering when, whether and how a smarter grid could have, would have, should have made a difference. Below are observations on that topic from some industry insiders. But we’re also hoping you will use the Talk Back comment form at the bottom of the story to tell us what you think.

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Writing on the S&C Electric blog, Mike Edmonds makes the case for interoperability to maximize the benefits of smart grid technology and reduce the duration of power outages and increase grid capacity. One way to do this, he says, is to achieve interoperability between automatic reconfiguration systems and volt/var optimization systems. As he explains on the blog:

·         Automatic reconfiguration systems can isolate damaged parts of the power grid during a storm and reroute power to as many businesses and consumers as possible

·         Volt/var optimization systems allow the power grid to better handle peak demand, because they effectively lower demand while also boosting grid capacity.

 

Discovery News offers some interesting perspectives, including these from:

·         Bob Gohn of Pike Research, who suggests greater distributed power, including small-scale power generation and/or storage systems in the home, could help,

 

·         Matt Wakefield of the Electric Power Research Institute, who believes smart meters are a first step in modernizing the grid. He notes they can't prevent an outage but they can help pinpoint them faster and might lead to quicker power restoration. Wakefield also notes that utilities are experimenting with stronger power poles.

Writing in Intelligent Utility, Phil Carson highlights a number of potential solutions, including the argument that more resources for vegetation management and better management and coordination of restoration efforts. He also says:

·         "…the linear sprawl of the grid itself—that is, the miles of wires that transmit and distribute electrical power—poses a significant maintenance challenge and a hurdle to certain restoration challenges. That's the argument for de-centralized power systems such as microgrids, solar gardens and community energy storage."

 

In a post on DNV KEMA's SmartGridSherpa blog, Ron Chebra argues that "no amount of technology can stop a tree limb from crashing across a feeder, or can stop a lightning strike to a transformer." But he says the latest massive outage on the East Coast may be a wake-up call for technology to provide alternative solutions:

·         ”Independence (remember this is the 4th of July holiday season) is a strong motivator to investigate, invest and implement microgrids," he says, but notes they are not without shortcomings, ones of which is cost.  Yet, he says: "The shift of power from the large to micro may reach a cross over point between cost and dependence."

 

So now it's your turn. Stronger power poles? More smart meters? Underground distribution lines? Microgrids? We know that Mother Nature is going to continue to wreak havoc, but what's the best way to shorten the breadth, depth and duration of resulting outages?  Use the Talk Back comment form to share your thinking.