Smart Grids

In the introduction the term Smart Grids is used, but what is the meaning of this term? It is a grid which is smarter, but how much smarter? Will the grid get a brain? This is exactly what is going to happen.

The first part of the grid which we know until today was built almost 100 years ago, this grid is increased in size over the years and with higher voltage levels, but it had always the same structure. The grid was traditionally provided by electricity via coal, nuclear and natural gas stations, these sources are stable and are put on and off when needed to answer the demands of the grid. The structure how today’s electricity grid is operating is a top-down structure that branches into an ever finer tree-like structure. This is shown In the picture on the side. On the left side the big power plants are shown which distribute the energy on high voltage levels to the cities, where it is converted to lower levels for the companies and even lower levels for the customers.

Over the last years the energy slowly changed to a more green one. Governments all around the world are investing in cleaner energy sources like wind energy or solar energy. These new energy sources are different from the traditional sources and not only because they are cleaner, but also because these new power plants cannot switch on and off and the electricity they generate is not stable and constant. During the night a solar panel does not generate any energy and when it is wind still also the wind turbine will not generate any energy. This is one of the reason why our grid must become smarter. Another thing what is happening that not only solar plants and wind farms are being made, no the solar panels are also build on roofs and farmers build wind turbines next to their farm. A part of all the energy which is produced is sometimes sold back into the grid, here the today’s grid is not built for. So how to handle electricity input also on the customer side and where must this electricity go to. This are to big reasons why the grid of today has to change to a more distributed generation, bidirectional distribution.

Another thing what is happening is that the Netherlands as small country cannot produce that much green energy by themselves so we are making connections to our neighbors who can help us out. Also to store our energy when we have too much generated, for example the wind energy during the night. So the grid is getting bigger and has to be controlled.

But what with those new smart meters from the electricity company? Is this also part of the Smart grids? In a way yes, these smart meters are helping the customers to save energy and give them more inside in the content of the energy bill. It also helps already to feed electricity back into the grid when it is produced on the rooftop. Another task of these smart meters is monitoring the electricity and get more knowledge of how people consume their electricity. This information is from value for the grid companies, who can use this to make better predictions in how much electricity is needed.

The Dutch grid is one of the most reliable grid in Europe, in 2010 a Dutch household had as an average for 34 minutes  no electricity; this is a good number, but it will be hard to keep the grid as reliable as it is now with the introduction of the new fluctuating energy sources. This is why the industry is busy with introducing intelligent nodes to the grid to monitor and help the grid company to fix and locate any problems or failure in the grid. The intelligent nodes are consisting of electronics, meters, maybe also some storage and a way to communicate back to the grid owner.