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Smart grid technologies are transforming the energy sector. Creating a smart energy network can improve energy efficiency and encourage sustainability. In tandem, smart grid technology and renewable energy will create an energy grid ready for a fossil fuel-free future.
Renewable energy sources – generated by wind, wave, marine, hydro, biomass and solar – produced around 28 per cent of total UK electricity in 2018 and in April 2019 the amount of energy generated in the United States by renewable sources exceeded coal for the first time ever.
This is undoubtedly good news, but renewables are more unreliable than fossil fuels and nuclear power, which provide consistent power 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Renewables have unpredictable peaks and troughs in supply – after all, solar panels can only run during the daytime.
That’s why intelligent options for energy storage and smart grid technology has become necessary. It can utilise big data to supply power only according to demand.
The digital smart meter is, for the majority of people, the most visible element of the smart grid. These are being installed in homes and offices across the United Kingdom. They relay information about supply and demand between energy companies and the users, giving more accurate data about energy usage.
This is also essential to smart lighting and HVAC technologies already used to regulate energy consumption in modern intelligent office buildings.
The implications are potentially transformative. On a larger scale, energy companies can use machine learning and big data to make even more intelligent predictions about consumption nationwide, leveraging the flexibility of demand-side consumption to keep the grid in balance, reduce outages and improve grid security.
Many smart grids now have ‘self-healing’ capabilities. This gives them the ability to identify faults and recover faster from them, making blackouts and power outages shorter and less frequent. The grid would use sensors that measure the condition of the power network to identify any faults or unusual behaviour.
Fault location, isolation and service restoration (FLISR) technology is one of the self-healing methods proving useful to the smart utility sector. In 2014, the United States Department of Energy suggested FLISR could reduce the number of customers interrupted by power outages by up to 45%.
FLISR works by quickly identifying a fault – this could be structural damage or equipment failure – using equipment installed at substations or along the power lines. It then isolates the fault in as small an area as possible, working to limit the amount of damage done to the system, and allowing teams to restore service and reconfigure the grid.
FLISR isn’t a single technology, rather a family of systems that serve a similar purpose, according to the needs and configuration of individual equipment. This is what makes it an ideal system for smart grids.