The US Grid Is Getting Smarter – Impacts Are Noticeable

Smart grid deployments in the US are delivering results, with improvements in grid operations, energy efficiency, asset utilization and reliability.
Published: Thu 11 Sep 2014

The 2014 US Smart Grid System Report reports that with investments of over US$9 billion in the nation’s electric grid since 2010 under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), smart grid technology deployments have been advanced, providing real-world data on technology costs and benefits along with best practices.

Noticeable impacts are now being observed with respect to gains in reliability, efficiency, and consumer involvement. Industry has worked with researchers and standards organizations to advance cybersecurity practices and address interoperability challenges. Newly deployed smart grid technologies are now providing information streams that are beginning to advance utility operations and business processes, while engaging residential, commercial, and industrial consumers in electricity management and even production.

Advanced metering infrastructure (AMI)

About 46 million smart meters are in place in the US today. An estimated 65 million smart meters will be installed nationwide by 2015, accounting for more than a third of the approximately 145 million US meters in use today.

AMI is enhancing the operational efficiency of utilities and providing electricity customers with information to more effectively manage their energy use. For example, Central Maine Power Company has deployed smart meters to its 625,000 customers and has reduced its meter operations costs by more than 80% with annualized savings of about US$6.7 million – due largely to fewer service calls. Projects under ARRA estimate operational cost savings from 13% to 77%.

Customer-based technologies

The application of customer-based technologies and time-based rate programs generally lags the deployment of smart meters, but many utilities are beginning to actively engage their customers as smart meters and AMI make new information on electricity usage available to consumers. For example at Oklahoma Gas and Electric, the coupling of AMI with time-based rates and in-home displays is reducing peak demand to an extent that will potentially enable the utility to defer the construction of a 170MW peaking power plant.

Utility and state efforts are also addressing the privacy concerns of electricity customers, and businesses are offering new energy management services to customers.

Distribution system upgrades

The integration of sensing, communications, and control technologies with field devices in distribution systems is improving reliability and efficiency. For example, the City of Chattanooga was able to instantly restore power to half of the residents affected by a severe windstorm on July 5, 2012 (from 80,000 affected customers to less than 40,000 within 2 seconds) using automated feeder switching.

More than half of the ARRA projects are deploying distribution automation technologies across 6,500 circuits, representing about 4% of the estimated 160,000 US distribution circuits. ARRA projects have invested about US$2 billion as of March 2013 in distribution automation to deploy field devices, such as automated feeder switches and capacitors, and to integrate them with utility systems that manage data and control operations.

Transmission system upgrades

The deployment of advanced sensors and high-speed communications networks on transmission systems is advancing the ability to monitor and control operations at high-voltage substations and across the transmission grid. For example, in one application of synchrophasors, the Western Electricity Coordinating Council has determined that it can increase the energy flow along the California-Oregon Intertie by 100MW or more using the synchrophasor data for real-time control – reducing energy costs by an estimated $35 million to $75 million over 40 years without any new high-voltage capital investments.

ARRA investments in synchrophasor technology will result in more than 1,000 networked phasor measurement units (PMUs) deployed by 2015, up from 166 in 2009.

Progress is also being made in instituting cybersecurity measures and advancing interoperability among devices and systems.

Disruption ahead

Looking ahead to the trends and challenges shaping future deployment the Report concludes that disruptive challenges are on the horizon as the amount of grid-connected renewable and distributed energy increases. These will require new business models, advanced system designs, and long-term planning.

● Going forward, business models must consider new market entrants from consumers-as-producers and the evolving role of the distribution utility from supplier to coordinator of highly distributed generation and energy resources.

● To effectively integrate thousands of new devices and market participants, utilities across the grid will need advanced controls combined with sophisticated communications and IT to enable stable, reliable, and optimal balance of supply and demand.

● Long-term investment strategies could be considered to optimize technology and asset deployment while coordinating the competing interests of reliability, efficiency, affordability, and environmental targets.

Further reading

US Department of Energy: 2014 Smart Grid System Report