Energy Savings with Smart Grid Systems

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Currently, local utilities in the U.S. generate 12 percent more energy than they anticipate needing. Otherwise, if they experience a brownout or blackout, utility companies face heavy penalties from the government.

“Most of that extra energy is going to waste,” WNCG Prof. Brian Evans states. “If utility companies had access to better information, they could predict user demand and how it evolves over the day. They could reduce energy waste by around four-to-six percent.”

According to Prof. Evans, Smart Grid systems can reduce consumption by more efficiently utilizing energy resources. This includes switching to alternative power sources when available, such as wind and solar power. Smart Grids also involve informing consumers so they can make decisions about power usage. It brings energy decisions to a local level on both the utility plant and consumer sides of power distribution.

“To enable more efficient energy usage,” Prof. Evans states, “We need two-way communication from the power and energy customers back to local utilities. The information needs to be reliable and update every 15 minutes, since that is how often utility prices are set in Texas.”

Energy savings would be particularly helpful during Texas’ notoriously hot summers. According to Prof. Evans, during peak load situations, which tend to be afternoon hours from about 3-7pm in summer, the cost of power is up to 30 times higher than during light load hours.

Smart Grids help utility companies make region-wide decisions about the allocation of resources and if they need to bring in power from outside the utility, which is when they pay the most for energy. The smart power meter at the customer’s site can also feed information about individual power consumption directly to consumers via a smart phone or webpage.

“A customer could view a profile of their daily usage and find out what’s really using power and what the biggest consumers of energy really are,” Prof. Evans mentions.

Prof. Evans’ WNCG research team has produced major breakthroughs to increase reliability and communication within smart grids.

“We’ve reduced the chances of communication errors by a factor of 100, even 1,000, in some of our approaches. They’re incredibly reliable,” Prof. Evans states.

According to Prof. Evans, a common, limiting problem across communication systems, such as Wifi, 4G and 5G cellular, is interference. The WNCG research team developed joint transmitter-receiver methods to reduce interference in a cost-effective manner. Reducing interference enables communication between smart power meters and local utilities at both the transmitter and receiver sides.

Aside from research challenges, regulatory issues, cost of deployment and operational expenses also create obstacles. Currently, efforts exist in the U.S., California, Germany, Brazil, France, Spain, Japan, China and Korea to deploy Smart Grids utility-wide.

“There are about 100 million smart power meters worldwide, and that number increases about 5 percent per year,” Prof. Evans states. “It’s not quite the explosive growth smart phones have, but it will still grow steadily for the next 20 years.”

The advantage of Smart Grids, Prof. Evans mentions, is that transmitters and receivers can be placed over existing power lines with quick deployment.

“Smart Grids are being deployed and implemented all over the world, with many companies already involved in this energy system of the future. Germany wants to have around 80 percent of all homes connected to a Smart Grid by about 2030. It’s pretty impressive,” Prof. Evans states.