Why Electric Utilities Should Invest in Grid Modernization

Grid Modernization

by Todd Jackson, GE Digital Energy

Everyday lifestyles are becoming increasingly dependent on convenience.

For example, online services such as video streaming make it easy to not only access on-demand content, but also enhance the overall customer experience.

By using data, media companies can anticipate services based on users’ preferred search terms.

Cities are following suit by becoming smart cities that can anticipate rather than react to ongoing challenges.

The world’s growing demand for energy is expected to increase by more than 70 percent by 2035, according to The Economic Times.

This, combined with an aging grid infrastructure, has created a gap between energy demand and energy supply; however, with a smart city, all parts of a city’s electrical system are interconnected, allowing it to measure, monitor and analyze data including energy usage and weather threats.

The result is an opportunity for utilities to enhance operational efficiency, improve productivity and reliability and, above all, increase consumer engagement.

Achieving a Modern Grid

A modernized grid is an energy Internet that delivers real-time information and knowledge, empowering smarter energy choices and delivering significant benefits.

But how can utilities marry information and automation technologies with the current electrical infrastructure to support today’s growing energy needs?

Introduced in 2012, Solutions as a Service (SaaS)–one of GE’s innovative Industrial Internet technologies–provides small- and mid-market utilities with the grid-modernization technology they need without having to incur the overhead expenses associated with developing their own smart grid networks.

As a cloud-based, fee-for-service grid-management system, GE’s SaaS empowers utilities of all sizes to create modernized, interconnected grids to meet the needs of today’s ever-evolving businesses.

GE’s Industrial Internet solutions, which connect machines, industrial big data and people, establish a constant flow of communication between a business operation and its machines, enabling big data to be converted into real-time analytical insight, improving grid reliability and efficiency.

Smart Cities Empower Consumers

Made possible with GE’s SaaS technology, cities such as Holly Springs, Mississippi; Skiatook, Oklahoma; Leesburg, Florida; and Norcross, Georgia, already have moved toward a modernized grid.

By modernizing the grid, these cities can respond to changing energy dynamics through a cohesive network, modern meters and advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) for their utility grids.

This allows each city to provide state-of-the-art utility billing, monitoring and outage detection services to citizens and business communities in the most cost-effective and reliable manner.

These cities opted into a pre-integrated package of services that range from electric and water meter services for the cities’ AMI to prepaid electric billing and a consumer Web portal.

In addition, the package included services such as outage detection, asset monitoring and support for the cities’ utility grids.

This complete grid-modernization solution can provide the cities a faster deployment of gas, electric and water meters and reduce excess costs associated with the management of their entire utility grids.

Utility customers will better understand their electric and water usage data, which will help them control their energy usage and make informed decisions about how and when they use their energy.

Utility and Consumer Benefits

Modern grid benefits are not limited to these cities.

With the modern grid, utilities anywhere can reduce the losses in transmission and distribution, which will allow them to manage their generation mix, minimize the risk of unexpected transformer failure, and provide remote monitoring and control.

Of equal significance, the modern grid allows utilities to have greater control if there is an unexpected outage so they can restore power to consumers faster.

Available technologies for today’s utilities have more real-time knowledge about the grid and its performance.

By using social media updates or smart meter data, these technologies can triangulate the source of an outage and show a utility where to send its crews faster than traditional systems.

The technologies also can help a utility understand where a potential equipment failure exists or if there are potential problems, which allows utilities to address a problem proactively as part of its regular maintenance program rather than incurring additional costs related to unplanned, emergency repairs.

In addition, outages can be detected automatically with electricity rerouted around the problem area to restore power to alternate sections quickly, which helps more people keep their lights on.

From a customer standpoint, a modernized grid reduces time consumers are in the dark–both literally and figuratively.

Not only are utilities able to keep the lights on by reducing outages and improving outage response times, but consumers have greater control managing their energy usage and costs.

According to a new report from the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative (SGCC), a fully deployed smart grid has the potential to save consumers between $39.69 and $101.57 annually in the United States while empowering them to make more informed decisions about their energy usage because of this increased data.

New Opportunities

Utilities that fail to prioritize grid modernization bypass the opportunity to take advantage of applications such as pre-pay, outage management via AMI and demand response.

These are significant productivity and operational improvement applications that come back in cost avoidance or revenue recovery.

Without a modern grid, outages also will continue to be unpredictable.

New technology for today’s grid is designed to tackle tomorrow’s utility problems before they become disruptions.

Modernizing the grid will ensure that utilities’ reliable services will continue far into the future and benefit utilities and their customers.

Todd Jackson is the product line leader for Software Solutions at GE’s Digital Energy business. Digital Energy provides integrated smart grid solutions and reliable power delivery systems to electric utilities, as well as the oil and gas, critical infrastructure and industrial sectors. To learn more, visit www.gedigitalenergy.com.

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