by Joe Adamoli
If you were in parts of the U.S. and Canada on August 14, 2003, you were probably very confused, very inconvenienced, and very uncomfortable.
That was the day a cascading power outage plunged approximately 50 million people into darkness and cost the economy of both nations $6 billion dollars. The blackout represented another milestone in a disturbing trend of power interruptions that have grown in size and frequency over several decades.
The culprit is the aging electric transmission and distribution infrastructure, or “grid,” used to deliver electricity across regions and between utilities. While generation technologies and demand patterns have evolved and become more complex in recent years, the grid has remained virtually unchanged technologically from nearly a half-century ago. Even on the grid’s best days, its inherent inefficiencies balancing the flows of energy is a difficult process, one that wastes substantial amounts of electricity.
Under extreme conditions, such as those of that hot, muggy day in August 2003, stresses on the system can produce catastrophic results, hardly a comforting prospect for a world where energy demand is expected to grow by more than 50 percent in the next 20 years.
But a new approach called “smart grid” holds the potential to dramatically modernize the nation’s electricity supply and delivery infrastructure.
Smart grid uses a variety of computer hardware and software tools to transform the existing centralized grid into a dynamic and complex system of energy- and information-sharing networks that allows utilities to better coordinate and manage loads, quickly avert potential blackout conditions, and save the U.S. economy tens of billions of dollars each year by ensuring power reliability. Smart grid is also better suited to accommodate the growing integration of wind, solar, and other renewable power sources with varying power flows into the energy generation mix, as well as small-scale local generators such as fuel cells and microturbines. Furthermore, smart grid will facilitate two-way communications between the utilities and their customers through the use of advanced smart meters. This is expected to increase energy efficiency.
The pace of smart grid technology development is sure to increase thanks to a $4.5 billion boost from President Obama’s recently enacted stimulus package. But research into these exciting technologies is already a top priority for AREVA’s Transmission and Distribution division, which manages a significant share of the world’s energy flow.
Working with large and smaller grid operators, researchers, energy technology specialists, professional organizations, and other key stakeholders, AREVA’s smart grid R&D program is focused on creating cost-effective tools that will help prevent blackouts, maximize the integration of CO2-free energy sources, optimize the performance and management of transmission and distribution infrastructure, and explore the best way to incorporate emerging modes of energy consumption (e.g., electric vehicles, appliances, and buildings) into the mix. In several control centers around the world (e.g., American Electric Power, North China Grid), AREVA’s advanced decision support and visualization tool, e-terravision®, is used to provide operators with situational awareness. AREVA is making significant enhancements to its generation control applications and other energy management tools to enable customers (such as Hawaii Electric Company, Bonneville Electric Power, and EnergiNet in Denmark) to better integrate wind and other distributed resources into their operations.
Several AREVA-developed technologies are already making a difference for the firm’s customers. ExCel Energy, which provides electricity to eight Western and Midwestern states, uses AREVA’s thyristor-based Static VAR Compensator (SVC) regulating devices to maximize system performance and power transfer capabilities while also stabilizing the network and easing the connection of renewable energy sources. The improved power quality afforded by AREVA’s newest system-regulating technology, SVC MaxSine, has helped industrial operations in the Middle East and Australia maximize operational performance and output.
In Canada, AREVA’s new generation HVDCiceTM system ensures the reliability of distribution networks by preventing ice build-up on overhead power lines. Elements of AREVA’s e-terra network management products are assisting grid operators in the U.S. and China with system monitoring, performance analysis, demand planning, and security management, while several hospitals in France have found the AREVA Microgrids Controller to be a superior emergency power option compared with conventional generator and battery configurations.
More technology innovations and refinements from AREVA are on the way as the company continues to help its customers address both current and evolving electricity challenges. Indeed, smart grid technology has a bright future, in more ways than one.