It Takes More Than a Meter

By Vivek Joshi, LumaSense Technologies

The concept of smart grid has become a misnomer in the United States. When people in the U.S. say “smart grid,” most of the time they really mean “smart meters.”

The demand side of smart grid, namely smart meters, has dominated the conversation in the U.S. for several years now, and with good reason. Educating consumers in general about how the electric grid affects their daily lives is critical to making the overall smart grid a successful venture. Focusing on AMI-related technologies and the demand side of the equation, however, had led to an unfortunate side effect: the perception that smart meters equals smart grid.

What gets lost in that conversation?

  • The supply side.
  • The infrastructure.
  • The transformers.

In other words, the parts that will actually make the smart grid work. To keep the electric grid working efficiently at varying capacities, you need to have both a smart demand and smart supply side. After all, what good is the smart grid if demand cannot be met? No smart meter in the world can keep the lights on.

The importance of a smart supply is very well understood in many other regions of the world where smart grid is considered critical to economic growth. Countries like Brazil, India and China are spending billions of dollars improving their infrastructures. These countries have something in common; they are investing just as heavily in modernizing their transmission and distribution infrastructures as they are in AMI. The supply side receives just as much attention as the demand. Many would argue that supply side receives even more attention.

This is not, however, the case in the United States where meters have been the primary conversation starter around smart grid. All it takes is looking where vendors are focusing their advertising dollars and where the government is focusing subsidies and grants to see proof of this trend. Transformer instrumentation companies are seeing great instrumentation opportunities for T&D assets in foreign countries. The fact that they’re not as great in the United States should concern everyone who wants to see the smart grid succeed.

Transmission and distribution assets must be properly maintained and monitored to continually and cost effectively meet demand. This means ensuring that utilities can keep constant tabs on information regarding the health of those critical energy assets.

Transformers have always been and will continue to be the keys to understanding what’s happening on the supply side of the equation. When accurate and real-time information (such as winding hot spot temperature) about transformer operations is known, utilities can optimize grid performance. This leads to the ability to maximize load while reducing unexpected failures, and to an extended transformer life—truly a long-term approach for what needs to be a long-term solution.

Instrumenting the electrical infrastructure is especially important in the U.S. for two key reasons:

1) Many older transformers that were installed 30-40 years ago are reaching the end of their useful lives, and
2) We tend to run our transformers to maximum capacity.

The health of our transformers is a viable indicator of the health of the power grid. It behooves us to ensure we devote the resources to building a more-stable and truly smart grid—supply and demand sides.

If we’re serious about wanting to make smart grid a reality, now is the time to ensure that we are looking at the complete system. It is time we put the “grid” back in “smart grid.”

Vivek Joshi is founder and CEO of LumaSense Technologies.

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