The world is becoming more conscious of energy usage and infrastructure by the minute. As a result, infrastructure systems that have been in place for decades are getting an overhaul that could change the way we consider the way power is distributed across both the country and the globe. Finding innovations like PoE solutions for the power grid is becoming increasingly necessary to account for this drastic change.
Put simply, the power grid is becoming smarter, which enhances its ability to deliver electricity in a safer and more efficient manner. As federal, state, and local authorities begin to offer power that is generated through both traditional and renewable sources, automation and infrastructure management are rising in importance.
Think about the way power is distributed today. In the United States alone, more than 7,300 power plants generate more than 4 trillion kilowatt hours of electricity every year. Nearly 160,000 miles of high-voltage power lines along with millions of low-voltage lines connect 145 million customers to that electricity. This immense network is essential to modern life but also deserves and requires more attention.
Stakeholder needs for the modern power grid are increasing almost by the minute:
- Public utilities and enterprises require computing and communication applications for substation and feeder automation.
- Generators of renewable energy require new ways to efficiently manage assets from field locations, such as wind turbines.
- Energy storage applications depend on efficient control systems that integrate distributed energy storage systems (ESS), battery management systems (BMS), and power conversion systems (PCS) into a centralized energy management system (EMS).
The situation magnifies in locations where power shortages are non-negotiable, and the reliability of the power supply becomes essential. Here, reliable systems that can manage drastically increased complexities are the absolute key to success.
Modernizing the power grid is essential, and efforts to do so are already underway. Join us for an in-depth exploration of the technology trends that are changing what we know about the “largest machine in the world” and learn how solutions like PoE can make an impact in managing these increasing complexities.
Put simply, the power grid is a complex network of infrastructure and technology designed to get electricity from producers to consumers. This includes everything from power plants to substations and the individual electrical lines leading into the homes of consumers.
Since conceived of and implemented by Thomas Edison in the late 19th century, the power grid works based on a simple structure: electricity, once generated by a power plant, is sent long-distance across the country using high-voltage transmission lines. At local hubs, substations lower the voltage of the current, which allows it to be distributed to homes and businesses connected to that hub.
While we often speak of a single U.S. power grid, there are actually three power grids that function as separate networks: the Texas, Western, and Eastern interconnections. Their basic structures are nearly identical, and they are only separated due to the physical distance between their networks.
As a result, we will consider all three interconnectors as part of the same grid, benefiting from the same innovations discussed below.
The Environmental Defense Fund says it best: our century-old power grid needs an upgrade. A more efficient version of the grid could pave the way for more reliable, renewable, controllable, and powerful electricity being delivered to both businesses and homes.
Getting to that point takes time. Fortunately, the revolution is already underway. More specifically, the following 5 technology trends have already begun to shape and transform the power grid as we know it:
- Artificial Intelligence
- Big Data and Analytics
- Internet of Things (IoT)
- Robots and Automation
- Cloud Computing
Let’s discuss each of these new technologies and their impact on the power grid as we know it today.
1. Artificial Intelligence (AI)
AI is making major inroads in a wide range of industries, and the power grid is no exception. Here, its promise shines especially when it comes to the optimal distribution of electricity even at high capacities, without overloading the grid. As a recent Forbes article explained, this benefit can be especially useful when applied to renewable energy sources:
An ESS+AI-powered solution could predict the best times to offload and store power from renewables… These efficiencies would reduce the world’s reliance on energy generated from fossil fuels and accelerate the transition to renewable electronic devices like electric vehicles.
This is an example of what industry experts like to call the smart grid: an overwhelmingly complex system, managed by AI solutions that direct power to the right spots at the right time. Power would be distributed more efficiently, outages would be minimized and reliability could increase dramatically. We are already seeing examples of solutions in which AI dynamically and instantaneously balances supply and demand to a greater degree than manual distribution ever could.
2. Big Data and Analytics
AI, of course, relies on powerful data streams and instant analysis that allows the software to make informed decisions. Big data, therefore, has a major role to play in the development of a smarter power grid.
The data itself has always been there. With 145 million customers in the US, each consuming more than 10,000 kilowatt hours per month, trillions of potential data points could be leveraged and analyzed, leading to major insights into the efficiencies of power usage and distribution. Traditionally, the vast majority of that data is lost as it has been impossible to analyze at scale manually.
Enter the next generation of analytics. Advanced analytics has the potential to evaluate untold numbers of information bits in real-time, improving their modeling with every update coming in. And, as outlined by McKinsey, these types of models are already being implemented across the globe:
One Western European transmission system operator used advanced analytics to evaluate a medium- to high-voltage grid. Its model considered more than 10,000 variables, including all grid assets, current and future generation capacities and their profiles, expected load distributions and their profiles, and import and export capacities. It ultimately simulated the impact of external events down to the asset level, and clarified risks of possible grid failures, value at stake, and possible solutions.
Imagine the benefit if this type of analytics model could be scaled to analyze the entire U.S. grid. Real-time and predictive analysis of data leads to more informed decision-making at every level, ultimately boosting efficiencies and reliability.
3. Internet of Things (IoT)
The amount of data we can and need to analyze will only increase in the coming years. The main reason for such a high volume of data: connected smart devices that can provide information about their own usage as they’re being used. Enter the Internet of Things (IoT).
The interconnection of physical devices creates a massive opportunity. Wireless devices like sensors, radio modules, gateways, and routers are all designed to deliver electricity but have traditionally existed in isolation. Imagine the power of the information you could get through reporting from each of them related to their current, past, and optimum power usage.
This is another component that makes the smart grid “smart”. Consumers are able to make better energy choices, while power grid managers have a better overview of the electricity flow. Combined with advanced analytics and AI-enabled machine learning, these insights can be invaluable in building a better power grid.
4. Robots and Automation
Where many of the above solutions can impact the entire power grid, other technological trends have more local impact potential. For example, robotics has quickly emerged as a way to better maintain everything from substations to wind turbines. Being able to send a non-human entity to complete repair and maintenance can be a drastic advantage for everyone involved.
And of course, that’s only the beginning. As one industry expert notes:
As robots and drones become more prevalent, they will provide a significant source of data for utilities including mapping dangerous or inaccessible parts of utilities’ infrastructure that can then support training, planning, and maintenance. Robots can also play a key role in the installation and set-up of technologies such as offshore wind and solar panels.
Data analytics and IoT have also led to an increasing push to automate the grid. Power flow is ultimately predictable; the more existing data can inform future decision making, the less humans have to be involved in managing the nuances of that decision.
5. Cloud Computing
Creating a smart city has been a common vision of the future for innovators around the world. Cloud computing could make it happen in its own way.
Smart cities could use cloud computing to disengage many of the other trends mentioned above from a single, centralized location. This technology’s ability to decentralize itself allows it to not just keep the data more secure, but also make sure that no amount of data or information is too large or unwieldy to process.
Rapid processing in the cloud comes with potentially significant costs. But it also increases the efficiency of the grid, making sure less energy goes to waste and more is flowing into the right spot when needed.
Of course, the potential solutions proposed by these technology trends bring their own problems. Above all, they still need to be implemented, which can be a massive undertaking when considering that all of the devices described need both power and the ability to transmit information. Enter Power over Ethernet (PoE) as a core cog in the equation.
What is PoE?
PoE, short for Power over Ethernet, describes a network in which an Ethernet cable can deliver both electricity and data to a smart device. Contrast that with the traditional means of networking, in which power and data require separate cables to deliver their respective goals.
Devices connected via PoE only need a single cord and don’t need to rely on potentially unreliable WiFi connections for data access. It’s most common in simple devices like phones and wireless access points, but newer generations of the technology can support devices with higher wattage as needed.
How Does PoE Work?
PoE works on the premise that modern Ethernet cables (generation Cat5) have more wires than they need. They only need two pairs of wires to transfer data but are built with four pairs. The other two pairs can then be used to draw power through the same cable.
Though both electricity and data share a single Ethernet cable, the two will not interfere with each other or compromise each other’s effectiveness. The device receives a reliable power and data stream as long as the cable is functional.
What Are the Benefits of PoE?
The first and most obvious benefit of PoE compared with separate data and power lines is its simplicity. Installation requires less effort, and will not typically require a licensed electrician for installation.
This simplicity and the decreased need for electrical adapters or in-depth electrical work also reduces the potential for electrical hazards. Power outages become less common, not just because PoE devices can report patterns of future power outages but because the grid needed to set up these devices is much simpler (and requires less wattage) to operate.
Finally, PoE has brought a flexibility into the power grid, the importance of which is impossible to overstate. Plug-and-play devices can be installed anywhere and at a moment’s notice, providing the ability to monitor electricity flow across the entire grid without the need for electrical outlets.
The Potential of PoE Solutions for the Power Grid
The energy industry is well-known for its sometimes harsh conditions. In addition to the more general benefits mentioned above, it’s crucial to point out that these devices are tailor-made to withstand even the harshest conditions.
PoE switches and injectors can operate 24/7. They can withstand temperatures as low as -40° C and as high as 75° C. They’ll withstand even harsh corrosion and vibration.
At the same time, this technology is also inherently secure. Transmitting data over a hard wire instead of WiFi means less potential for data breaches. Add in the efficiencies gained by constant data gathering and analytics, and it’s no surprise to see PoE take a foothold in securing the future of the electrical grid.
A march toward the smart grid is inevitable, but only the right technology can help us get there. PoE technology is prepared to cover that gap, helping everyone in the chain build a better, smarter system.
At the same time, it’s not as simple as jumping in and buying some PoE devices and network structures. You need a partner who can help you find the right product to build and leverage a smarter grid. Versa Technology provides high-speed connectivity that is vital to the above-mentioned applications.
Our industry-leading PoE products are designed to help manage substations, power enterprises, and resources connected to distributed energy. Our components also allow for the proactive monitoring of network behavior, which is an increasingly important step.
We’re ready for the smart grid, and we’re here to get you started. Contact us for a conversation about our products and how we can help your organization increase its efficiencies on the power grid.