Grid modernization—transitioning from electric grids to smart grids built on digital and IoT solutions—is a do-or-die imperative for utility companies. Costs are rising, competition is increasing, and aging equipment is unable to keep pace with today's rapidly shifting energy landscape.
The smart grid offers proven solutions to these challenges, but companies and engineers still need to decide how best to make the transition. That requires evaluating digital technologies and equipment to find the right combination of reliability, security, manageability, and flexibility.
What Is the Smart Grid?
In the electric utility industry, a combination of forces, including regulatory changes and growth in renewable resources, is leading to rapid transformation of the grid to a new smart grid.
The smart grid is an energy-generation, transmission, and distribution network enhanced by digital control, monitoring, and telecommunications capabilities. In addition to providing real-time, two-way flow of electrical power, smart grid technology, and applications allow for automated communication between utilities and their consumers.
With the smart grid system, all stakeholders in the electricity chain, from generation plant to commercial, industrial, and residential users, gain insight into both electricity flow and the infrastructure transporting it.
To add intelligence to existing infrastructure, new digital equipment and devices are strategically deployed to complement existing systems. This new layer of digital equipment connects all assets—an example of the Internet of Things (IoT) in action.
The Smart Grid and IoT
The IoT movement is all about integrating connectivity into equipment and devices, connecting those devices to intelligent networks, and using data analytics to extract meaningful and actionable insights from them. For smart grid IoT, this means distributing computing intelligence throughout the infrastructure.
For example, power generation companies are embedding IoT sensors into wind turbine vanes to control their pitch, rotation, and function, responding in real time to changing wind conditions. Likewise, substation control systems can respond quickly to events and minimize production downtime associated with network disturbances, all without human intervention.
The greatest value of smart grid and IoT solutions is that they help realize the potential of data that resides in existing, unconnected infrastructure. Through real-time monitoring and a control infrastructure based on IoT technologies, utilities can gather data about every aspect of the electricity supply chain.
System operators can then use powerful analytics, simulation models, and what-if scenarios to create more-precise predictions about a wide variety of factors, from the status of the grid to weather conditions.
Benefits of the Smart Grid
Through predictive analytics, proactive operations, and other IoT-enabled features, the smart grid enables electricity companies, grid system operators, and engineers to:
- Reduce capital expenditures. Utilities can meet peak demand without waste and can distribute electricity in the most efficient way possible, minimizing transmission costs, and optimizing every component.
- Manage demand. With granular insight into energy consumption patterns, as well as IoT-driven predictions, utilities can balance demand with supply and minimize waste caused by overprovisioning.
- Increase renewable capacity. Utilities can incorporate more onshore and offshore renewables into the energy mix. Issues such as intermittent supply and smaller, distributed energy generation can be overcome while still ensuring a steady electricity supply.
- Lower maintenance costs. Insight into every generation, transmission, and distribution asset enables remote fault diagnosis, minimizes site visits, and supports predictive maintenance that focuses engineering teams on areas of greatest need.
- Improve regulatory compliance. Grid technology helps electricity and utility companies meet regulatory obligations to reduce carbon emissions by enabling greater use of renewables; supporting more efficient generation, transmission, and distribution; and supporting more efficient consumption. In the EU, this includes the commitment to reduce emissions to 54 to 68 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, and to nearly 100 percent below 2020 levels by 2050.1
- Enhance customer engagement. Electricity companies can use insights to develop an accurate picture of customers' usage patterns on which to base more tailored and competitive product and service offerings. This is especially critical to compete within deregulated markets and meet energy savings targets in regulated markets.
Intel is helping lay the groundwork for a resilient, efficient smart grid through a set of interoperable solutions designed to facilitate connecting, managing, and securing all types of devices in a consistent and scalable manner.
Four Technology Imperatives
As the electrical grid moves from analog to digital, nearly every device and piece of equipment will require built-in, secure, interconnected intelligence. A new generation of industrial computers, connected IoT sensors, and advanced data analytics, as well as a supporting cloud and network infrastructure, will be needed.
To achieve the promise of smart grid services, four broad technology criteria must be fulfilled: security, communications, analytics, and manageability.
- Security. Electricity grids are large, valuable, and critical targets that require a three-dimensional approach to security—protecting hardware, securing applications, and defending against cyber threats. Embedded security solutions, such as Intel® Trusted Execution Technology (Intel® TXT) in the Intel vPro® platform, are needed to protect the smart grid's assets and data.
End-to-end security solutions are also necessary to protect against attacks, detect them as quickly as possible, and take immediate corrective actions. For example, Intel security solutions help provide end-to-end protection across entire IoT platforms with hardware- and software-fortified security that creates a chain of trust, from edge to network to cloud.
An additional method to combat emerging cyber threats is to virtualize and consolidate separate grid monitoring and control systems on standard, Intel®-based industrial computers. Threat management can then be performed on a single platform—resulting in both stronger and simple cybersecurity efforts.
- Communication. Smart grid communication involves interconnected devices and systems sharing information with each other. Different protocols, from 2G to WANs, are needed to transmit data in local networks and externally to a central location. This requires common frameworks, based on open industry standards, so grid system operators can ensure interoperable connectivity without tying their grid ecosystem to one company's solution.
- Analytics. The smart grid offers millions of data points that present opportunities for insights and improvements. Collecting and analyzing masses of data in real time requires advanced smart grid technology. Intel® Xeon® processor-based servers can provide the power for these tasks with in-memory analytics capabilities that help unlock insights in seconds.
- Real-time visibility into operations can support more-efficient maintenance planning.
- Predictive analytics can enable more-precise generation planning and load balancing.
- Simulation models can help renewable energy plants better predict energy demand, factor in weather conditions, and optimize capacity.
- Real-time optimizations by distribution service operators, transmission service operators, and vertically integrated utilities can address issues such as service voltage and phase of substations, thereby improving energy efficiency.
- Manageability. Manageability covers three broad areas: equipment, software, and security. Particularly when assets are geographically dispersed or otherwise hard to access, remote diagnostic, control, and repair capabilities can dramatically increase equipment availability and reduce costs.
Originally built for one-way power flow from centralized generators, grids now must manage a decentralized, two-way flow that includes solar and other highly distributed energy sources. Intel®-based IoT and industrial computer systems deliver efficient monitoring and control functions to the grid edge.
Virtualized execution environments are another manageability solution that can allow developers to isolate different workloads, run multiple operating systems, and prevent them from interfering with one another—which safeguards millions of lines of computing code and improves control-system reliability.
Ensure Compatibility Across Grid Solutions
As utilities move to the smart grid, they need to maintain flexibility and compatibility across new and legacy deployments. Smart grid solutions powered by standardized Intel® architecture are compatible with a range of software applications, which can help companies avoid vendor lock-in and move applications from one hardware solution to another without costly delays.
Continuing Innovation in Grid Solutions
Intel is helping lay the groundwork for a resilient, efficient smart grid through a set of interoperable solutions designed to facilitate connecting, managing, and securing all types of devices in a consistent and scalable manner. The framework features fundamental capabilities, delivered by components from Intel and ecosystem partners, that address connectivity, manageability, and security.