A smart grid is an electricity network or grid that uses digital technology to intelligently respond and adapt to changes within that network. Smart grids are widely viewed as an opportunity to move energy infrastructure forward and unlock greater reliability, efficiency and cost-effectiveness.
A smart grid will typically incorporate a number of different common elements. The first of these is advanced metering infrastructure, which gives them their commonly used name: smart meters. These are often accompanied by controls and demand response capabilities that are behind the meter in the case of utility smart grids.
Additionally, smart grids will incorporate distributed generation, typically spread across a large number of small-scale power producers. A range of technologies can be incorporated into a smart grid to provide multiple energy vectors, such as solar and wind providing electricity or heat pumps and biomass providing heat. Intelligent monitoring and controls allow this mix of generation to be used effectively across a number of different sites and end users, dynamically balancing available supply with demand.
Typically, generation technology will be supplemented by storage, usually battery energy storage systems (BESS). The ability to store electricity reliably opens up much greater efficiency across a smart grid, allowing excess generation to be stored and more easily balancing demand across multiple end-users. In the case of smart microgrids, batteries increasingly form the centre of the grid and are typically accompanied by sophisticated energy management software that monitors other aspects of the smart grid and intelligently manages their operation. For larger, utility-scale smart grids, storage continues to occupy a key role, storing generated energy as well as allowing end users to better engage with the smart grid, pushing and pulling electricity as required rather than being passive bill payers.
Lastly, smart grids require sufficient digital communication infrastructure to allow the different elements of the grid to be connected, monitored and controlled in real-time. Smart grids are part of the wider ‘Internet of Things’ technology concept, where increasing amounts of equipment and infrastructure has communication capabilities and is interlinked. This provides utility providers and end users alike far greater insight and access to data, as well as being able to dynamically monitor and control equipment across a grid from a central location.
Smart grids help to reduce energy consumption and costs through intelligent application of data. This includes more accurate preventative maintenance and greater energy efficiency by using data to identify areas of improvement. Integrating various green energy technologies also makes smart grids cleaner, while reduced outages and lower costs through smart monitoring also offers lower energy costs.