Over the next five years, Illinois electricity producers and distributors will be deploying Smart Grid technology across the state. Illinois State University was awarded a grant from the Illinois Science and Energy Innovation Foundation (ISEIF) to work with teachers and students to develop better Smart Grid and Smart Meter knowledge.
The grid refers to the electric grid, a network of transmission lines, substations, transformers, and more that deliver electricity from the power plant to your home or business. When you flip on a light switch or power up a computer, you rely upon the electrical grid to supply a consistent supply of electricity. The Smart Grid uses digital technology for two-way communication between the utility and its customers and for sensing along transmission lines. Like the Internet, the Smart Grid will consist of controls, computers, automation, and new technologies and equipment working together, but in this case, these technologies will work with the electrical grid to respond digitally to our quickly changing electric demands.
Most of the traditional distribution grid is built using a “hub-and-spoke” pattern. The Smart Grid can connect the “spokes” to enable multiple distribution paths. When facing an issue like a tree falling on a line, a lightning strike, or a short circuit, Smart Grid technologies collectively called “distribution automation” can sense the problem and automatically reroute power around it. This can mean the difference between a lengthy outage and a momentary one where the only sign something is happening is that lights flicker.
Electricity travels from the power plant to your home through a system called the power distribution grid. The electricity is generated in power plants such as nuclear, coal, wind turbine generators and distributed via transmission lines to substations and to your home and businesses.
Did you know that the cost to generate electric power varies from season to season, day to day or even hour to hour? Today most electric customers are unaware of this because most of us pay one flat rate for each kilowatt-hour of electricity used, regardless of the time of day or actual cost to produce it. This pricing structure increases electricity costs for everyone, since we use a lot of electricity during expensive times of day and don’t know it, and utilities simply integrate those high costs into the flat rate we pay.
When and How Power Is Generated Influences Its Cost
“Baseload” power plants are run continually and are tuned to run very cost effectively, in contrast to “peaker” power plants that ramp up and down to meet higher demand and consequently run less cost-effectively.
The Smart Grid includes several components that help utilities better deliver quality power to your home: smart meters and technology on the distribution grid that helps manage voltage and power factor.
Smart meters are advanced electric meters that provide both you and your utility with more information about the power delivered to your home. Like other digital devices, they include a transformer to step down voltage for the digital electronics. Also like other digital devices, they are engineered to meet strict FCC requirements to keep from interfering with other electronic or communications equipment.
Smart meters allow your utility to see what the actual voltage delivered to your home is. Before smart meters, utilities would base their equipment settings on voltage readings at an electric substation and engineering estimates of what that would mean for actual voltage at each customer’s home. They would often set voltages unnecessarily higher to ensure that the last home on a line didn’t receive voltage below 110.