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Over the coming months, Canadian utilities will overhaul installations of electricity consumption meters at residential and commercial premises in order to accommodate the upcoming smart grid.  Until very recently, the most common method of energy metering was by means of an analog electromechanical device that functions based on eddy currents.  While this meter has served the utility well, it is only capable of recording the cumulative amount of power consumed and must be manually recorded from time to time.  However, it is not capable of recording how much has been used corresponding to a specific time of the day.

A smart meter is a two-way digital device that accurately records and wirelessly communicates with the utility company at scheduled intervals (usually hourly), providing information about the amount of power consumed in a given time period [1].  If this metering technology is implemented across an entire city, utilities would be able to observe usage trends and introduce time-of-use pricing in order to reduce demand during periods of peak energy consumption.  By increasing the cost of electricity during times of day where demand is at its highest, consumers are encouraged to delay non-critical tasks until there is a reduction in loading on the system.  In this way, the loading on the overall power system would remain more consistent throughout the day, increasing utilization of existing capacity and potentially reducing voltage fluctuations in the distribution system.  Less variation in power flow will yield better stability of our system and more efficient use of our assets.  Ultimately, it will raise overall consumer awareness of the need to conserve energy.

In addition, a more futuristic goal of smart metering in residential areas is to incorporate the concept of smart appliances.  Using the HAN protocol, the smart meter will be able to control compatible devices and coordinate with local consumer loads to reduce strain on the distribution system.  Smart devices would be able to collaborate with other neighbourhood meters in order to decide when to allow or postpone the operation of non-critical in-home appliances.  In essence, the main goal of smart appliances is to further extend the function of the smart meter, allowing better organization and load management than ever before [2].

The installation of smart meters in homes and businesses in Ontario may already be evident.  The Ontario government, in collaboration with Hydro One and other local distribution companies has already begun the long-term transition to a smarter grid system by mandating the installation of a smart meter in every home in Ontario by the end of 2010 [3].  While the meters are not yet transmitting telemetry, the installation of the smart metering infrastructure will pave the way to a world of future possibilities.

Another significant way that smart grids will benefit residential consumers is providing a means to incorporate growing distributed generation systems.  For example, home customers will be able to integrate solar panels or wind turbines on their roof and sell electricity back to the grid at a predetermined rate set by the government; in Canada, this is known as Feed-in-Tariff rate for alternative and renewable energy sources.  Although consumers are already permitted to connect distributed generation systems, there continues to be very limited deployment of these generation sources in residential areas, particularly since it poses significant problems to the voltage system including the introduction of harmonics and voltage fluctuations.

Another potential issue with integration of distributed generation is that most renewable energy sources depend on natural phenomena and are therefore incapable of consistently and predictably generating power throughout the day.  The utility needs to design compensation for the resulting voltage fluctuations in order to prevent the system parameters from exceeding the safe operating region.  By measuring and recording information about distributed generation installations, the utility will be able to install appropriate compensation systems to protect the system as a whole.

Over the next several decades, demand for electricity is projected to rise by at least 30% [4].  It is becoming less and less practical to construct new large-scale generation plants, so in order to meet this demand, we must turn to renewable energy, making it is imperative that we ensure the system is capable of accepting a significant volume of energy from distributed generation.  The solution of widespread renewable energy in homes will satisfy our increasing thirst for electricity while simultaneously offering a significant advancement in our goal to reduce our overall carbon footprint.

In the next installment, we will discuss some real-world implementations of smart meters in distribution systems, exploring key issues that must be considered when deploying these technologies.

[1] D Y Raghavendra Nagesh, J V Vamshi Krishna, and S S Tulasiram, “A Real-Time Architecture for Smart Energy Management,” in Innovative Smart Grid Technologies, Washington, D.C., January 2010, pp. 1-4.
[2] Brian Seal. (2005, May) Demand Responsive Appliance Interface from the EPRI Demand Responsive Appliance Interface Project. [Online].   http://osgug.ucaiug.org/sgsystems/openhan/HAN%20Use%20Cases/OpenHAN%202.0%20use%20cases/Appliance%20Interface%20Connector%20-%20Contribution%20to%20OpenHAN.doc
[3] Ali Vojdani, “Smart Integration,” Power and Energy Magazine, vol. 6, no. 6, pp. 71-79, November-December 2008.
[4] IEEE Emerging Technologies. (2009, January) A Smart Grid for Intelligent Energy Use. [Online].   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YrcqA_cqRD8

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.

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