Smart Grid in the power sector

An advanced and complex system

By Thahirah Jalal, Unison Networks Limited, New Zealand / IEC 2014 Young Professional Leader

Electricity delivery from power stations to consumers’ premises had been achieved since the 19th century. Electricity networks are known as the most complex man-made system. Hence, the technologies available to generate, transmit and distribute electricity had always been advanced and contemporary for their time.

Thahirah Jalal, 2014 Young Professionals Leader Thahirah Jalal, 2014 Young Professionals Leader

Smart Grid defined

The term “Smart Grid” refers to the utilization of technologies, tools and techniques to further modernize the electricity grids. Since the introduction of the term “Smart Grid”, there have been many critics who asked “Was the grid dumb before this?” The answer is “No” because there had been some smart technologies in existence but they were too expensive for mass rollout and hence, in the past, their applications were limited for critical infrastructures only. However, with the rapid advance in electronics, communications and computer technology these days, smart technologies can now be built at lower prices and hence can be widely deployed.

The key technologies for a Smart Grid are sensors that measure the relevant parameters such as temperatures, voltage and current; communication methods that allow two-way communications to a device; control systems that allow a device to be reconfigured remotely; and user-interface and decision support systems that provide an overview of asset status and perform advanced analytics on data to provide information.

Anticipated benefits

Many countries have invested considerably into Smart Grid initiatives. They have been motivated by the various benefits that are anticipated from Smart Grid deployment. One of the key drivers for Smart Grid implementation is reliability. Sensors perform real-time measurements across the network, creating higher visibility of the network’s status and condition. Advanced Distribution Management Systems are available to handle more real-time data, providing analytics and grid self-healing capabilities by remotely opening and closing switches.  

Many countries are also shifting towards Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy resources in their endeavours to reduce carbon emission. This shift introduced new challenges and called for new ways of managing energy, such as enabling active participation by consumers in demand response. Through smart meters and real-time communication, devices in consumers’ homes can be controlled to reduce peak demand. Renewable Energy resources are volatile in nature – transmission connections to the renewable power plants can be optimized by using dynamic rating.

The edge

The Smart Grid is now shifting its emphasis to its Grid Edge. More and more devices installed at the peripheries of a network will have embedded intelligence to automatically deliver reliability and power quality. An example of a Smart Grid edge device is a smart inverter that ensures that power delivered from solar panels will be compatible with the grid.

However, there are individuals that are skeptical about whether the benefits can be achieved or not. A simple analogy is like switching from a normal mobile phone to a smart phone. If the user is only using the smart phone to make phone calls, then he/she will not benefit from the features of using the internet for video conferencing etc. Similarly, if a utility has invested in smart meters, they will need to make new business decisions based on the information they receive from them. Otherwise, the benefits of the smart meters will not be fully optimized.

International roundup

In the United States, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act) provided the US Department of Energy with USD 4,5 billion to modernize the electric power grid. The two largest initiatives launched following the Act are the Smart Grid Investment Grant (SGIG) and the Smart Grid Demonstration Programme (SGDP), which spanned over five years. The SGIG focuses on deploying existing Smart Grid technologies, tools, and techniques to improve grid performance today, whereas the SGDP explores advanced Smart Grid and energy storage systems and evaluates performance for future applications. 

In China, more than USD 200 billion has been committed to Smart Grid projects with the objective to deliver a reliable national grid that is capable of transmitting power from conventional and Renewable Energy sources. With China currently being the world’s largest market for power transmission and distribution technology, its Smart Grid market will be large and influential.

In Europe, the European Technology Platform for Electricity Networks of the Future (ETP SmartGrids) is the key forum to formulate policies and development pathways for the Smart Grid sector of European electricity network. The European Commission aims to replace 80% of electricity meters in Europe with smart meters rollout by 2020.2

The concept of wide area electricity network known as Super Smart Grid (SSG) to connect Europe with northern Africa, the Middle East and Turkey has been introduced to provide consumers with a single European energy market that makes the most of different types of power generation and optimizes the costs associated with managing and maintaining an evolving grid infrastructure.

The importance of standardization

In most countries, Smart Grid projects are still ongoing. With more technologies being developed, new technology trials will continue, resulting in a Smart Grid consisting of millions of old and new parts and pieces which all need to work harmoniously with each other. This is where standardization becomes crucial in ensuring system compatibility.

Given the multidisciplinary nature of the Smart Grid, over 100 IEC Standards have been identified as relevant. The Smart Grid standards map can be viewed at:

A System Committee (SyC) Smart Energy has also been recently set up to provide systems level standardization, coordination and guidance in the areas of Smart Grid and Smart Energy. Key standards such as the IEC 61850 have been introduced to ensure device and communication compatibility in substations while IEC 61970 has been developed to define application program interfaces for energy management systems.

The Smart Grids around the world will continue to evolve, piece by piece, over time. They will likely transform the way we use electricity in our daily lives, similar to how the Internet has already changed the way we work, learn and entertain ourselves.

IEC Young Professionals Programme

This Programme brings together the world's upcoming expert engineers, technicians and managers. It provides them with opportunities to shape the future of international standardization and conformity assessment in electrotechnology.

Thahirah Jalal, 2014 Young Professionals Leader Thahirah Jalal, 2014 Young Professionals Leader
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