The smart grid offers a unique opportunity for customers to gain control over their energy bill and energy consumption. Their present engagement with the utility is often limited to the monthly bill or when the lights go out. The smart grid has the potential to change this paradigm. Following is a summary of the benefits customers stand to gain from the smart grid.
Customers will be able to closely monitor their energy consumption and available usage choices either through an in-home display device or a Web portal on a smart phone or home computer.
With a better understanding of personal energy usage, customers can participate in new pricing rates, plans and programs. As the commodity price of energy is transferred from a utility's fixed rates to variable rates, customers will be able to lower their energy costs by moving usage from peak periods to times when energy is inexpensive.
Ultimately, customers will be able to automate a home's response to price signals. When prices are high, automated devices and appliances will either modify their operation or potentially even turn off during a utility's peak load periods.
Distribution Automation and Automated Outage Management
All customers want more reliable and higher-quality power. As home electronics become more sophisticated and telecommuting increases, customers cannot tolerate interruptions or power-quality events. The smart grid will allow the system operator to respond to events immediately. Real-world examples include the integration of advanced metering infrastructure and outage management systems, where outages are identified and crews are dispatched.
The smart grid promises to create a utility-grade communications backbone that will seamlessly and safely integrate into the grid, including all forms of distributed generation, such as solar, wind and other emerging technologies. Many utilities currently install two meters when a customer adds distributed generation, one for the received power and one for the delivered power. Smart meters will consolidate this functionality into one meter, thereby reducing on-site installation costs and any ongoing service fees.
The potential impacts of vehicle charging on the power grid are well known. The smart grid will be able to recognize increasing spot loads on the distribution grid, and operators will be able to compensate for or control the new loads before they can cause system interruption. The smart grid could manage the charging cycles to help the customer charge the vehicle at the most advantageous times. Future vehicles may even be able to act as distributed storage and return power to the grid as needed.
Voltage Control Programs
One of the most promising benefits of the smart grid is in voltage management, which can lower the amount of generated power — without noticeable impact to the customer. Some have suggested these types of programs may be the killer apps that ultimately tie the grid and the meter applications together.
Smart grid-related programs and devices will also open the door to new services that can be provided by third parties. These systems could notify the owner in advance of a failure so corrective actions could be taken. One example of such an interaction is an air conditioner low on coolant that begins to cycle more and more frequently. If action was taken at the onset of the more frequent cycling, a technician could have recharged the system, avoiding the cost and inconvenience of a failed air conditioning unit.
Customers want inexpensive, reliable and environmentally friendly power. The smart grid is poised to help meet all of these requirements. One thing is for sure, there will be much more productive interaction between utilities and their customers.
Glenn Pritchard (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the technology lead for PECO's smart grid/smart meter project. This project includes the systemwide replacement of 1.8 million electric meters, the associated integration and application redesign, and the installation of a smart grid communications backbone. He recently received the 2010 IEC Grid Vision and the 2008 Utilimetrics' Utility Best Practices awards for his work in the smart grid and AMI fields. Pritchard holds a BSEE degree from Clemson University and is a registered professional engineer in Pennsylvania.
Editor's note: Mr. Pritchard was asked to lay out the range of benefits associated with smart grid. At present, no single deployment, including the PECO project, expects to demonstrate all of these benefits immediately.