Smart Grids: AI at the Service of the Power Distribution Network
Slowly but steadily, artificial intelligence is making its way to new facets of our lives. Through the automation of various processes, the use of IoT introduces unprecedented levels of comfort and better control of the devices around us. Such is the case of the smart grid – a technology that enables instantaneous feedback from various sensors and devices on the operation of the power grid by streamlining the power delivery process.
The term “smart grid” describes an electrical grid that is integrated with an AI-enabled, two-way communication network, helping to ensure more efficient transmission of electricity and its faster restoration after power blackouts.
In the smart grid, system-wide information about blackouts and energy usage is sent back to the plant and regional power grid operators, allowing them to optimize the power delivery process, which also benefits end-users and reduces the strain on the network itself.
Why is the smart grid a thing now?
Smart grids – although not quite here yet – are slowly inching closer to becoming a reality. The development of the smart grid is a natural consequence of the proliferation of IoT technologies: sensors, controllers, automation systems, actuators, etc.
At Naturaily, we are already a part of the smart grid revolution, pushing the concept closer towards a global adoption. Some of our clients have realized the potential of the smart grid, and are investing in smart grid management solutions. An example of such a company is EA Technogy, a UK-based provider of management solutions for owners and operators of electrical assets. LVCloud, a project which we proudly developed for them, is a prime showcase of the smart grid use.
|LVCloud is an Internet of Things (IoT) application that monitors and takes care of the grid. The project combines various technologies such as machine learning and transforms them into a sophisticated app that can detect and solve power network malfunctions before they escalate into major problems.|
The software collects information from the so-called reclosers and analyzes it to find traces of malfunction or damage. Any type of non-obvious problems such as excessive humidity caused by various incidents or bad condition of wires.
LVCloud also aggregates and interprets data from other devices: TDRs (Time-domain reflectometers) and ATLMs (ALVIN Transformer Load Monitors), and enables managing them. Engineers can access a web based dashboard and get email or text notifications in case of emergency.
How AI supports and optimizes electric networks around the world
Traditionally, power grids were designed as one-directional systems sending power to homes and offices. What a smart grid does is that it streamlines the operation of the network by providing real-time monitoring and adjustments.
The smart grid is to a power delivery network what the nervous system is to blood vessels in the human body – it regulates the infrastructure to help it achieve optimal state of performance, e.g. by delivering electricity evenly during peak-usage hours.
The smart grid anticipates problem areas and service disturbances before they actually happen. When there is a risk of failure, it can isolate parts of the electrical network to prevent minor and short power outages from turning into region-wide and long-term blackouts.
How does a smart grid collect data?
Smart grids take advantage of a mesh of IoT devices and sensors that gather and transmit data back and forth in the system, making it possible to automatically adjust electricity flows. Remote grid managers can be informed of issues in real-time and can act immediately if there is a problem.
For example, the grid can communicate with smart meters at consumers’ households and turn on consumers’ home appliances automatically when there is a lot of electricity in the grid – driving the electricity cost lower.
What does a smart grid do?
The smart grid is on its way to usher the energy industry into a new era of reliability, availability, and efficiency. The various benefits associated with the Smart Grid include:
- Quicker restoration of electricity after power disturbances - AI-enabled sensors in the grid allow to detect the exact location of failure, and automatically reroute when outages occur – containing them before they escalate to large-scale blackouts. For example, smart grid’s self-healing capacity would be indispensable during natural disasters, allowing to quickly restore access to light, heat and communication by intelligently rerouting the power delivery.
- Reduced costs of utilities – the smart grid will give consumers more control over how they consume electricity. This could be possible for example by accessing an end-user platform and choosing the best moments to purchase electricity, or save even more by taking advantage of the consumer’s own renewable power sources.
Smart meters and other mechanisms give full information about the current power consumption in every household, and translate it into an actual cost. Due to the fact that many electricity providers offer real-time pricing, such a system will give consumers ample opportunity to know, how much they are spending, and to save money on electricity, e.g. by using less power when electricity is most expensive.
- Reduced peak demand, leading to lower electricity rates – the smart grid could monitor and control home appliances with a wireless connection. For example, when the energy demand is high, the smart grid can automatically reduce the energy demand of home appliances by, for example, turning off the heat in a clothes dryer for 30 seconds.
- Better integration with other power generation systems, including renewable energy systems – As renewable energy sources (e.g. windmills and solar panels) slowly make up a larger portion of the energy picture, the smart grid will help to better integrate and transmit that energy across the power grid.
- More information for the end-users – with all the connected sensors and controls, the smart grid offers deeper insights for the end-users, giving them the information and tools they need to make better informed choices about energy use and the actual cost of using appliances.
The smart grid will enable an unprecedented level of consumer participation. Consumers will no longer have to wait for a monthly statement to have insight into how much electricity they have actually used.
When will smart grids be adopted worldwide?
Significant investments in the infrastructure will be needed to help smart grids fully take off, but the promise is very alluring. AI-enabled smart power delivery offers new levels of stability and resilience of the electrical grid.
The technology is not here yet, but it is certainly on its way to revolutionize power supply. Before we fully embrace it, there will be a lot of testing, improvements, consumer education, development of standards and regulations, and information sharing between projects to ensure that the benefits we envision from the Smart Grid become a reality.