Do we have smart grids in NC?


To start things off, let's first mention that promoting smart grid technologies is a Sierra Club priority, and let's then define (as best we can) what's being talked about: think of the smart grid as two-way communication between the utility and energy users (homes, in the general sense, but appliances to be more specific). Smart grids build off something called Advanced Metering Infrastructures, which allow wireless communication between utilities and energy meters, so that utilities can offer demand response services, i.e. asking consumers to use less at certain times to prevent blackouts. Utilities have been emphasizing and constructing AMI for years, so that system is largely in place and ready for expansion in much of the country.

The aforementioned is more or less agreed on, but when "we need a smart grid" hits the airwaves and RSS feeds, politicians and utility representatives and environmental advocates can be talking about very different things at the levels involved, i.e., the utility or distribution system, the customer, and the transmission infrastructure. There's a great write-up of this by some professors at Carnegie Mellon.

On to North Carolina.

Working example. There are several initiatives in both the eastern and western part of the state that have smart meters and AMI inititiatives. But there's a lot of info out there on Duke Energy's program in Charlotte. From a CNET article on Duke's Charlotte pilot program:

Consider Duke Energy's smart-grid trial in Charlotte, N.C. A substation--the point that distributes electricity from long-haul transmission lines to a neighborhood--is equipped with 213 solar panels and a large battery. About 100 households have smart meters and in-home energy management tools.

When the sun is shining, the 50-kilowatt solar array makes electricity for the homes in the neighborhood. It also feeds the battery, giving the area a few hours of backup power in the case of an outage and a buffer to draw from during peak times. Consumers can take part in demand-response programs, too, to get a reduction on their electricity bill.

One of the more aggressive utilities in this area, Duke plans to have millions of smart meters installed in homes over the next two years. In addition, it envisions putting sensors along power lines, and networking gear, such as routers, in substations and transformers. In people's homes, individual appliances like water heaters could eventually be networked as well.

The project reflects how the utility industry seems to be following the path of the computing industry, which went from centralized processing with mainframes to a much more distributed and varied architecture.
You can read more about the project in the Triangle Business Journal.

Research. Last fall, NC State announced plans to house a national research center for smart grid technologies, aiming to develop the "Internet of Energy" (the center site).


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  4. Obviously the communications between the power company and power users, residential, commercial, and industrial, can always be improved. And as technology allows, it will be improved. However, it is not new.

    In 1968, when I had a summer job at a CP&L, now Progress Energy plant near Wilmington, I could watch the power output of the plant change as rainstorms would move over the area of some large chemical plants that used electricity for cooling. As the rain storm would cover the plant and their power consumption would decrease, a computer in Raleigh would see the reduction in power and automatically reduce the generation in certain power plants. The same summer I watch as a small quick startup generator would start on a remote signal from Raleigh.

    During the early 70's, when I worked at Duke Power, there was discussion about the power company remotely during off certain large power consuming equipment at industrial plants. That was outside my field of work so I don't know if it was implemented at that time.

    Later, in the late '70s, while working for an industrial automation supplier I helped install a computer at a chemical plant in the Midwest that would receive a signal from the power company and adjust their power load based on that signal.

    The use of power producer to power consumer communication is advancing. But it is an incremental advance, not a giant leap. The "smart grid" was working over four decades ago.

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