Historical events provide the greatest indication of our need for a more flexible, more intelligent and more reliable power system. In the Western world, the Tennessee Valley Authority’s bulk transmission system has achieved five nines of availability for ten years (ended 2009) , which corresponds to under 5.26 minutes of outage annually. However, while the grid is generally robust to disturbances, catastrophic events like the 2003 North-eastern Blackout serve as a solemn reminder of the fragility of our system, susceptible to cascading outages originating from a handful of preventable failures in key parts of the system. More concerning is the increasing incidence of widespread outages: in the US, 58 outages affected over 50,000 customers from 1996 to 2000 (an average of 409,854 customers per incident), compared to 41 occurrences for the same number of customers between 1991 and 1995 .
The essence of smart grid technology is the provision of sensors and computational intelligence to power systems, enabling monitoring and control well beyond our current capabilities. A vital component of our smart grid future is the wherewithal to detect a precarious situation and avert crisis, either by performing preventative maintenance or by reducing the time needed to locate failing equipment. Moreover, remotely monitoring the infrastructure provides the possibility of improvements to the operational efficiency of the power system, perhaps through better routing of electric power or by dynamically determining equipment ratings based on external conditions such as ambient temperature or weather.
In the face of changing requirements due to environmental concerns as well as external threats, it is becoming extraordinarily difficult for the utility to continue to maintain the status quo. As the adoption of plug-in [hybrid] electric vehicles intensifies, the utility must be prepared for a corresponding increase in power consumption. The transition to a more intelligent grid is an inevitable consequence of our ever-increasing appetite for electricity as well as our continued commitment to encouraging environmental sustainability.
The deregulation of the electric power system also presents new and unique challenges, since an unprecedented number of participants need to coordinate grid operations using more information than ever before. If we are to maintain the level of reliability that customers have come to expect from the power system, we must be able to predict problems effectively, rather than simply react to them as an eventuality.
As the grid expands to serve growing customer demands as well as a changing society, we must proceed cautiously to ensure the system preserves its reputation of reliability. It is incumbent upon us to carefully analyze past events and implement appropriate protection and control schemes using modern technologies. It is clear that the power system of tomorrow will depend upon the design and preparation we conduct today.
|||Tennessee Valley Authority. (2010, March) TVA Transmission System. [Online]. http://www.tva.gov/power/xmission.htm|
|||M. Amin, “North America’s electricity infrastructure: are we ready for more perfect storms? ,” Security and Privacy, IEEE, vol. 1, no. 5, pp. 19-25, September-October 2003.|
I originally wrote this article for a report submitted to ECE4439: Conventional, Renewable and Nuclear Energy, taught by Professor Amirnaser Yazdani
at the University of Western Ontario.