Superstorm Sandy left many people without power for an extremely long period of time in late 2012. Not only was the power knocked out in an extremely wide swath across the east coast but in some places the power didn’t come back on for a week or more. John McDonald, Director of Technical Strategy and Policy Development for GE Energy, says that some of these problems could have been avoided had energy companies invested in more smart grid systems.
What Makes A Grid Smart?
Smart grid systems involve using modern computer technology to gain more accurate information about the power situation. Smart meters, for example, tell the electric company when the power is out instead of forcing the electric company to rely on phone calls from residents. GIS systems show maps of homes and assets like substations so that problems can be pinpointed.
These types of technology as well as others allow electric companies to restore power more quickly in the event of an outage. Instead of having to investigate to find out where the problem is before crews can be dispatched, a smart grid allows users to send maintenance workers directly to the appropriate location. They can also be sent with the information that a 48v switching power supply needs work, for example. Superstorm Sandy knocked out power to about 10 million people in 21 states which makes it the largest single interruption of utilities in the U.S. and a smart grid system could have made it significantly easier for some areas to restore power.
Current State of Smart Grids
Smart grids are being implemented across the U.S. but they are not in place in most areas yet. In March of 2012, several months before Superstorm Sandy, no smart meters were installed in two of the areas that were hit hardest by outages. PSE&G of New Jersey and Consolidated Edison of New York were both planning the installation of smart meters but neither had actually installed them at the time of the storm.
Across the country about 36 million smart meters were in place at the time of Superstorm Sandy. Projected number for 2015 are 65 million meters installed, including those that will help 22 utility companies in 16 states cover their entire service areas with the new meters. PSE&G in New Jersey has approval to install 17,500 smart meters and Con Ed in New York aims to begin a pilot program involving 1500 smart meters located in Queens.
The Economy of Smart Grids
Edison Electric Institute (EEI) says that the installation of smart grids will increase the ability of electric companies to respond to consumer needs. By making it easier to pinpoint problems and improving consumer confidence in the utilities a smart grid will quickly pay for itself, EEI says. A better investment in technology, McDonald says, could help the country avoid another power outage of similar size and duration to that caused by Superstorm Sandy.
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