Extreme Weather Calls for Extremely Smart Technology

As extreme weather conditions sweep across the globe, it’s no wonder that role players are seriously considering smart grid technology to improve grid resiliency.
Published: Wed 06 Feb 2013

Heavy snowfall across the UK is causing widespread mayhem. The blizzards have left motorways and major roads blocked, and thousands of trains and hundreds of flights have been cancelled. With day-time temperatures plummeting to freezing and below freezing, people are being advised to stay indoors and avoid commuting where possible. This, however, is not a pleasant prospect for those without electricity.

Heavy snowfall and fierce blizzards are cutting off towns and villages by road and felling overhead power lines. The weight of the snow on overhead lines has brought them down. Wales’ Western Power has used helicopters to fly in additional engineers after a total of 10,000 households lost electricity supplies. The roads are badly affected, with even 4x4s struggling to gain access to many locations. This makes it difficult for utility staff to reach problem areas in order to restore power.

The world is experiencing an increase in extreme weather conditions and scientists are blaming it on climate change. Recent hurricanes such as Sandy, Irene and Katrina have had devastating effects. Often, power is lost as a result of these storms, bringing cities to a complete standstill.  Although these weather patterns cannot be controlled, smart meter technology can certainly help to accelerate the time spent on restoring power. Utilities, such as Pepco in the US, reported an efficient recovery period after Hurricane Sandy.

Although smart meters cannot do anything to fix downed power lines, smart meters can help shorten outages and make restoration more reliable and efficient. Smart meters can detect and report outages automatically. This eliminates the need for consumers to report the outage to their power provider which can often be difficult due to damaged telephone lines. Smart meters are able to verify that power is back on after crews reconnect lines. This is crucial since storms can cause "nested" outages, in which there are two or more breaks in the power lines serving an area: one below (or "nested" within) the other. The crew may fix the break closer to the substation, but may be completely unaware about the second or third or fourth break. Smart meter software can "ping" all meters on the circuit to verify restoration and will notify the utility if some of the smart meters are still without power. This can be done without having to make a phone call or having to send crew out. A great deal of time is also saved. In addition, utilities can use smart meter data to help keep the public informed as to power outages, as well as the restoration progress.

The UK government and energy companies plan to install a smart meter in every home [30 million] by 2019. The devices, which are being installed in homes and businesses now but will be fitted on a larger scale from 2014 to 2019. Apart from providing an efficient restoration process, the devices will also eliminate estimated bills, and some can provide real-time energy use via small wireless displays  to encourage energy saving. The Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) estimates that households will save £23 annually on their energy bills by 2020 as a result of smart meters.  

Engerati Analysis

Smart meters and smart grids have the potential to bring many benefits to the energy industry and to consumers. Unfortunately, a recent Consumer Engagement inquiry in the UK suggests that only half of the population in the UK have heard of smart meters and that not all of them support roll-out due to cost and privacy concerns. If engagement levels do not improve, people may refuse the installation of smart meters in their homes. This may hinder roll-out and consumers may not benefit from the technology as they could. Consumer concerns have hampered roll-out in other countries. Government and utilities must address these issues in order to prevent similar problems in the UK.

Sources                                                     

BBC News-Bad weather leaves 2,400 NI homes without electricity

Mirror News-Here we snow again: Millions hit by blizzards and freezing temperatures and winter’s going to get worse

Technology Review-Smart Meters Help Utility Speed Sandy Restoration