The first comprehensive and large scale smart grid is now operating. The $800 million project, built in Florida, has made power outages shorter and less frequent, and helped some customers save money, according to the utility that operates it.
Smart grids should be far more resilient than conventional grids, which is important for surviving storms, and make it easier to install more intermittent sources of energy like solar power (see “China Tests a Small Smart Electric Grid” and “On the Smart Grid, a Watt Saved Is a Watt Earned”). The Recovery Act of 2009 gave a vital boost to the development of smart grid technology, and the Florida grid was built with $200 million from the U.S. Department of Energy made available through the Recovery Act.
Dozens of utilities are building smart grids—or at least installing some smart grid components, but no one had put together all of the pieces at a large scale. Florida Power & Light’s project incorporates a wide variety of devices for monitoring and controlling every aspect of the grid, not just, say, smart meters in people’s homes.
“What is different is the breadth of what FPL’s done,” says Eric Dresselhuys, executive vice president of global development at Silver Spring Networks, a company that’s setting up smart grids around the world, and installed the network infrastructure for Florida Power & Light (see “Headed into an IPO, Smart Grid Company Struggles for Profit”).
Many utilities are installing smart meters—Pacific Gas & Electric in California has installed twice as many as FPL, for example. But while these are important, the flexibility and resilience that the smart grid promises depends on networking those together with thousands of sensors at key points in the grid— substations, transformers, local distribution lines, and high voltage transmission lines. (A project in Houston is similar in scope, but involves half as many customers, and covers somewhat less of the grid.)
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Via Chuck Sherwood, Senior Associate, TeleDimensions, Inc