Paperback thrillers have used the grid relentlessly: EMPs take it out; enemy governments hack it; a weather disaster topples it or, perhaps the worst outcome, humanity over consumes it. Grid resilience, the ability of an electrical or general energy grid to withstand threats, has become a monster in the closet.
Although the grid is more stable than these depictions, grid resilience remains a major, looming concern in utility management. In parts of the United States where the climate can be ferocious, like the hurricane-prone areas of the Gulf and Atlantic coast, the grid’s ability to withstand a weather event is important. Failure spells even longer recovery. Other concerns do include cybersecurity and consumption.
However, many companies and organizations are working toward making the grid resilient. From at-home IoT monitoring to microgrids with individual command and control, utilities are doing everything they can to ensure their grids remain functional and secure. Below are three innovative solutions to make the grid stronger.
Aerial Damage Assessment
One issue with grid infrastructure is access. Substations, lines and other utility units may not be in places that typical crews can access. They may be in fields, forests, among many buildings or simply tangled up in poorly managed neighborhood trees. It’s hard to inspect this infrastructure before storms and twice as hard after major weather events.
One innovative solution finding success is the adoption of aerial assessment drones. These UAVs are equipped with cameras and other equipment that allow them to function as robotic inspectors. Pre-weather event, they can check for signs of wear, tear or other issues. After storms, they can report the extent of the damage and map out a debris-free route to the problem location.
It’s true that the grid has been a target of foreign governments. The threat is not exclusive to the United States: Iran and Ukraine have experienced hacking of energy systems. However, what makes American cyber-defense unique is the ease with which our grid could be secured. It takes two steps: educating employees on cybersecurity protocols and implementing self-healing systems to quarantine threats.
Self-healing systems are also called distributed feeder automation systems. They are part of the “smart grid” initiative that adds intelligence to the grid to make it more effective. Essentially, these systems identify areas of the network that are down or compromised and isolate them using digital communications tools. This automated control allows the network to operate in portions, reducing downtime and outages. It also, in the case of hacking, presents opportunities to prevent anyone from taking control of the whole network.
IoT Gateways for Energy Efficiency
While IoT solutions abound for at-home energy monitoring, IIoT for the grid is just arriving. Much like the voltage meters and smart home energy tools seen in residences, industrial monitoring systems exist for circuits and substations. These IIoT gateways serve two main purposes: recording voltage for efficiency analysis and sending out commands regarding metering and distribution.
Smart grid systems also offer the opportunity for increased automation, which frees up costs long-term for utilities to invest in better infrastructure or more cybersecurity. It also gives a precise look at consumption and needs. In turn, companies can use that data to move toward energy collection such as solar and wind to meet demand. Alternatively, it may allow companies to sell energy more confidently, if demands do not exceed what is available on the grid.