What are the functions of smart grids?

Power grids are facing major challenges. Infrastructure is ageing, demand is rising – particularly from electric vehicles and electric heating systems – and the uptake of renewable energy sources is making power generation less reliable.

Enter the smart grid. This uses smart meters, advanced communications and various energy management systems to gather accurate data on power usage and adjust supply accordingly, communicating with other grids. They offer vastly improved reliability, flexibility, efficiency and sustainability, utilising the latest technology to better manage power supply.

And with smart meters, smart grid technologies enter the home, too. These tools are becoming commonplace, providing consumers with accurate information about their energy usage, managing devices and utilities and keeping energy costs low. These are the applications of smart grid technologies:

1. Creating a more reliable power supply

The shift to renewables has had the side effect of making energy supply somewhat less reliable. Because the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow 24/7, energy providers need to be able to regulate the flow of energy according to consumer demand. Smart grids automate this process, providing accurate information about demand and usage and adjusting the flow accordingly. Paired with smart battery systems, this can ensure a reliable electrical supply even from renewable sources.

Moreover, fault detection and self-healing capabilities work to isolate and repair faults and damage to the grid, ensuring demand is consistently met, and the infrastructure is less vulnerable to attacks or natural disasters.

2. Flexibility

A 2017 report by the Carbon Trust suggested the flexibility offered by a smart grid could save the United Kingdom £40 billion by 2050. Smart grids allow better communication between various power sources. In the past, power generation has been centralised in individual power stations, and traditional energy grids only allow power to flow in one direction. Smart grids not only offer better distribution of power sources but also let energy travel back and forth around the network. More intelligent storage options also provide an extra level of flexibility and reduce the UK’s reliance on “peaking power plants”, those that only operate during periods of high demand.

3. Offering better value for money

Digital technology allows for better demand-side energy management. Consumers can get accurate measurements of their energy usage, and some smart meters can even turn off devices, lights and appliances when they’re not being used.

Smart grids also ensure less energy wastage on a national level by storing and apportioning power supply according to demand. This leads to reduced costs for consumers and higher profit margins for energy companies.

4. Saving the planet

Smart grids improve sustainability and reduce carbon emissions by allowing greater penetration of renewable energy sources, particularly hitherto unreliable solar and wind. By introducing better energy storage systems and infrastructure that can support disparate solar and wind farms, renewable energy becomes more cost-effective prospect than on a traditional power grid. This can, therefore, help the national grid wean itself off dangerous fossil fuels.

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