Distribution, National Grid, Infrastructure, Metering
The current conversation in transmission and distribution is of the aging grid in the United States and the lack of benefits in generation improvements while the manner in which that power is distributed remains stagnant. The inefficiency of the complete process of converting raw materials and resources to electricity in the home is staggering, but the scale of the project to revolutionize the grid makes significant progress unrealistic. We can, however, form a clear vision of what the future of transmission will be.
We are looking to design a flexible grid that accommodates the future of generation as well as the future of consumption. The future of generation is variable. To design for generation sources that change with wind speed and sun intensity, the first priority must be adaptability. When considering consumption, we know two absolute truths.
1. The rate of consumption will continue to increase.
2. The array of consumption methods will continue to be more diverse.
Knowing these truths, our goal must be to improve efficiency of use and again, adaptability. I believe the development of the electric vehicle will prove to be a tremendous test for the world as the largest change in consumption. The growth of this technology will drastically change the current daily electricity demand plot. A nation of vehicles being charged overnight will result in a massive increase in demand from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. that will likely establish itself as the daily peak. This is a tremendous opportunity to develop the wind industry in the U.S., as there are traditionally stronger winds overnight. Looking into the non-residential demands of this technological growth, the primary challenge will of course be opportunities for charging away from home. The charging of a battery pack around town will be infrequent, considering that a nightly charge at home should be expected to sustain a standard day of driving (much like your cell phone). The natural question then becomes: what incentive is there to construct charging stations on a large scale when usage will be so low? The second dilemma is within the nature of battery charging. While a night at home is plenty of time, the process is far from immediate. A charge up should be expected to take hours, and it should be expected that consumers will not be quick to accept this delay after a lifetime of being at the gas station for just a few minutes at a time.
To improve efficiency, the greatest tool we have in the current development of the smart grid. We all should be cognizant of our consumption, but the smart grid ensures that power is being supplied only to the locations that it is needed and via the shortest route. The design is feedback-based and relies on smart meters to constantly feed data back to the system to create a full picture of immediate demand. Switches will from there allow the system to create the shortest path to demand and keep all unnecessary paths idle. I mentioned that the scale is unimaginable, but the metering and switching infrastructure is critical to an efficient transmission system. The buzz word smart is simply an indication that there is data from the lines actively being collected by the local utility. In short, this data collection along with the switching gear improves efficiency by eliminating waste. A highly accurate picture of demand allows for a reduction of excess generation.
Sweden and Germany have established themselves as leading nations in transmission and distribution efficiency. Sweden has followed a very similar path to the United States, with a gradual decline in losses bringing the current figure to 6-7%. Germany has an edge on both nations, reducing losses to roughly 4% in recent years. A second basis of comparison makes the European nations not quite as favorable, however. For the immense percentage of electricity being generated from renewable sources Germany and Sweden are paying a great amount. Sweden is paying roughly twice as much as the US at 27¢ per kWh and Germany approaches three times the average at 36¢ per kWh.
Despite a very different frequency and residential voltage for AC power, both nations operate on a very similar grid structure to the US. The European Commission, however, insists that the electricity producers do not own a portion of the grid to ensure free electricity competition. In Sweden, Svenska Kraftnat is the grid operator and a state-owned public utility. The grid is divided into four bidding areas and there is a general flow of electricity from north to south, following population density. Sweden has made a clear effort for energy market reform, evidenced by empowering consumers in the energy market, proposing hourly metering for household consumers, and creating a national smart grid council via Bill 2010/11:153. In Germany, the grid is owned by three companies after the recent sale of the transmission lines owned by E.ON. These companies have interconnects that are shared with Denmark, Austria, and Luxembourg. This shared transmission infrastructure results in reduced capital expenses for the European nations.
A, I. E. Energy Policies of Iea Countries Sweden 2013. Paris: Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2013. Web.
“Nordic System Map – Svk.se.” Nordic System Map – Svk.se. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 May 2014.
“Electric Power Transmission and Distribution Losses (% of Output).” Data. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 June 2014.
“Germany – Electric Power Transmission and Distribution Losses.” Germany. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 June 2014.
“Electricity Pricing.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 05 June 2014.
“Average Electricity Prices around the World: $/kWh.” Shrinkthatfootprintcom RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 June 2014.
“The Interconnected Grid in Germany and Europe.” Das Starke Netz Für Energie. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 June 2014.