Smart grid details: Spokane’s smart circuits   

Tags: Electricity, Energy Efficiency, Power Outages, Smart Grid

Yesterday we announced that Avista has applied for federal funds under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act for the first of two smart grid electric distribution projects. Read yesterday’s blog post here. This means we’re working to lay the groundwork for smart grid’s technological advances in the future while making our electric distribution system more efficient and reliable today.

In the last post I promised to provide a few details about this first project. Here goes. We’re calling the Spokane smart grid project, Smart Circuits. In a nutshell, the project would dramatically upgrade electric distribution lines, known as “feeders” in the Spokane area. To understand how this work qualifies as “smart grid,” a little Electric Grid 101 is in order.

Let’s consider efficiency first. When electricity is made at a dam or wind turbine, it doesn’t go directly to your house. It twists and turns through transmission lines (big ones), into substations and then distribution lines (littler ones) and eventually to you. Electricity could travel hundreds of miles. During this marathon run, some of its energy is lost. This project would reduce losses – saving ratepayer dollars. It would also reduce carbon emissions by about 15,000 tons per year. This reduction is based on less electricity needing to be produced for the same electric demand.

Now let’s think of reliability. For simplicity sake, assume that if a tree falls on the power line that feeds your neighborhood, everyone who gets power through that line, loses power. We send out a crew to fix it and your lights get turned back on. This might take a few hours, depending on your location and the severity of the damage to the line. Many people are impacted from one small incident on the line.

Now imagine if the power lines were smart enough to know where that tree fell and the system could isolate the issue, and leave most, if not all, of your neighborhood’s power on. The system could do this in seconds. This would be a much better solution for everyone. By installing sensors, capacitors, automatic switches and replacing aging equipment like transformers, this scenario is possible.

Why it’s really smart now
While there are many companies currently researching and developing new technologies that will allow energy users (you) to have more active participation with energy providers (us), through the grid – mass implementation is years out for sure. You can’t just stick a new device in your house and expect to become part of the smart grid. Your utility needs to ensure the grid is equipped with technology and communication equipment to make it happen. Getting our grid ready today means we’ll be ready when future smart grid interactions become reality.

We’ll continue to update the blog about smart grid issues as news breaks, but if you have any questions in the meantime, submit a comment below.
Posted by  System Account  on  8/4/2009
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