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The Future of IoT in the Grid

Many countries like the United States run on power grids that have been pretty much the same since the 20th century. With energy demands increasing day by day due to technologies like electric vehicles and smart homes, the current grid can barely keep up. This is where the concept of a smart grid was born. It aims to establish an improved grid that is more resilient, eco-friendly, and self-sufficient. 

The Internet of Things (IoT) plays a significant role in the deployment of the smart grid. For example, IoT allows utilities to minimize transmission & distribution losses, integrate renewable energy resources, and create a potentially self-healing grid. Moreover, with advances happening everyday in IoT, its uses in creating a smart grid are only going to proliferate. 

We’ll talk more about the future of IoT in a smart grid later. In this article, we’ll discuss the smart grid, IoT, and the scope of IoT in the grid. 

What is a smart grid and what are its basic components?

A smart grid aims to establish two-way communication between end-users and all parts of an electric system

Unlike the traditional grid, a smart grid is integrated with automation and communication systems, which allows it to monitor power consumption, and match generation in real-time. It gives end-users and utilities much greater control over the electricity flow and usage. This results in a more reliable, efficient, and eco-friendly grid. 

Ultimately, the smart grid aims to improve power generation and transmission by acting proactively in case of any blackout. One can argue that I am still getting reliable electricity at home, so why spend billions of dollars upgrading the grid?  

The crux of the matter is we have to prepare for future energy demands, especially if we want to switch to renewable energy. It is estimated that a nationwide high-voltage direct-current system can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 80% compared with 1990 levels, without making the electricity anymore expensive. Hence, it makes perfect sense to implement a smart grid as soon as possible.

Here are some basic components that would constitute a smart grid:

1. Smart Meters

As the name suggests, a smart meter is a device that replaces our traditional meters. Unlike traditional meters, a smart meter can provide real-time analytics of electricity consumption, monitor power quality, and give power outage notifications/warnings. 

On top of that, it automatically relays these insights to central monitoring stations operated by utilities for more accurate billings. For end-users, the defining feature of smart meters is energy management. It allows consumers to create intelligent energy-saver settings, like scheduling maximum energy when prices are low. 

2. Demand response programs

In a traditional grid, once the energy has been directed towards a region, there’s no way to utilize the unused energy since it is one-way transmission. But in a smart grid, excess energy can be utilized by implementing a Demand response program (DR). 

In 2019, it was estimated that the U.S.’ peak demand could have been reduced by 38,000 megawatts if the existing DR programs were to expand. Furthermore, an automated DR, an advanced version of DR, can be connected to an energy management system. And it can send shut-off commands to the smart appliances based on the grid’s condition. 

3. Wide-area situational awareness

One of the most important aspects of any energy grid is keeping power outages and disturbances at a minimum. And the way smart grid accomplishes that is by using Synchrophasors. Synchrophasor technology incorporates something called PMUs (Phasor Measurement Units). 

PMUs monitor power quality by collecting voltage and current samples for a specified time and location. These samples can be gathered as fast as 60 times per second and then be compared with different locations to provide wide-area monitoring in real-time. This data is highly useful in eliminating and predicting power blackouts, determining the need for transmission lines, and improving grid planning.

4. Distributed Generation

Distributed generation is the integration of different energy resources into the grid. One of the core purposes of the smart grid is increasing reliability and efficiency. So, connecting energy resources like wind and solar on a small scale would make the grid much more robust.

However, integration of these energy resources will require two-way flow. Homes would need to send power back to utilities, so it can be distributed to other end-users. That is why establishing two-way communication is a must for a smart grid. 

What does IoT stand for and what are its uses?

IoT stands for Internet of things, and it refers to the thousands of devices that are internet-connected and can collect, and share data. IoT devices are all around us. 

From automatic streetlights to self-heating beds, from automatic refrigerators to a person with a heart monitor implant, everything is classified under the umbrella term IoT. All devices that can be remotely controlled or monitored over the Internet are IoT devices. 

What are the benefits and uses of IoT?

Among thousands of uses, here are a few ways IoT applications benefit our lives.

  • Smart Cities: Automatic streetlights, traffic management, and energy management. These are all made possible by tiny sensors that monitor and send data over to other IoTs in a smart city.
  • Electric vehicles and Self-driven cars: All the self-driven vehicles you can find on the road have many embedded sensors that send continuous data to the cloud. This data is then analyzed to make better decisions while driving.
  • Farming: Modern farmers have started using IoT devices to optimize crop production. IoT applications can help farmers determine soil texture, the best time to harvest a crop, and generate suitable fertilizer profiles. Moreover, the growth of indoor plants can directly be monitored by IoT devices.

Here’s how the smart grid is enabled by IoT. 

How is the smart grid enabled by IoT?

The concept of the smart grid is much more than building better power and transmission lines. Though they are necessary too, the more interesting aspects of a smart grid are only enabled by IoT applications and devices

Here are a few examples of how the energy grid is IoT enabled: 

  • Vegetation management using IoT: The latest trend is using IoT devices like drones and satellites to monitor vegetation and plan trim cycles accordingly. The traditional way of inspecting power transmission lines is highly time-consuming and inefficient, whereas drones and satellites can collect huge amounts of data in almost no time. This IoT-enabled data can then be used by futuristic applications like Aptimize by Aplines.

Aptimize is a breakthrough application that calculates risk induced by vegetation, assesses risk for each utility asset, and generates optimal vegetation management programs.

  • Smart Metering using IoT: As mentioned earlier, smart meters are a huge component of the smart grid. They consist of numerous embedded sensors that send real-time data to both utilities and end-users.

This data is critical in creating a healthy grid that generates only a sufficient amount of energy and charges end-users accurately on the same. 

  • Fault Location, Isolation, and Service restoration: FLISR is a powerful technology implemented by utilities. It basically entails finding the faulty location and isolating it as soon as possible to prevent the further spread of the fault. So a specialized team can be sent to resolve the issue. The way these faults are detected is by using combinations of IoT line sensors that can send data remotely.

Furthermore, future IoT developments will help utilities tackle some of the most challenging tasks. For instance, advanced IoT will create the base for the communications infrastructure, which is required to make the grid more efficient and automated. Effective utilization of renewable energy sources like wind and solar will be made possible by smart storage. Smart charging of Vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology will allow electric cars to send power back to the grid. 

The bottom line

The Internet of Things (IoT) is used extensively in the smart grid. It refers to thousands of physical devices embedded with sensors that collect and send data over the Internet. Some notable uses of IoT technology in smart grids are drones used for inspection, line sensors that detect faults, synchrophasors that monitor power quality, and smart meters that can control appliances.  

On top of that, the future IoT technology will solve some of the most hardcore problems within the smart grid. For example, deployment of IoT will help utilities tackle serious losses in transmission and distribution lines, and smart energy management will be available to customers in real-time to ensure the efficient use of electricity. Finally, technologies like Narrowband IoT will be used to transfer big amounts of data from smart meters, and sensors.

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