Last week the Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran an article discussing how our nearly century-old, analog wires network is not up to the challenge of being a modern, distributed system that includes renewable energy:
The nation’s electric power transmission system, aka the grid, could be imagined as an overworked tangle of fraying household wires repeatedly spliced together by your grandfather, who refuses to call the electrician. It is based on century-old technology and, from a modern management perspective, is dumb.
Often, it’s likened to the nation’s highway system. But one local utilities executive said that is wishful thinking.
“More like a collection of New England country lanes,” said Roger Garratt, resource acquisition manager for Puget Sound Energy.
The article then goes on to discuss how to use digital technology, including remote sensors, fault identification, and end-user devices, to create a modern, digital network capable of real-time information flow and both automated and human responses to that information:
A better, approach, Pratt and Virden said, is to make the grid smarter.
The GridWise project is one of several national efforts to improve management of the grid for both producers and consumers. It could do for the power grid what the Internet did for the communications system.
“Right now, the grid is operated by managers who respond to issues or challenges directly and with a feedback time on the scale of minutes,” Pratt said.
Managers faced with power overloads or energy deficits turn power lines on or off to try to keep the grid’s flow in balance, he said.
GridWise sensors would automatically monitor electricity flow and respond to changes in seconds rather than minutes, Pratt said.
I’m glad to see more articles like this in the daily press, because it will heighten awareness of the ability to use digital technology as a low-cost alternative to new generation and wires construction, to enable us to meet anticipated demand growth and to accommodate new and distributed types and sources of energy. People just don’t think about infrastructure like this until it is inadequate for the job.