Modernizing our electric grid
New grid technology will allow co-op personnel to detect and fix line problems much sooner than they can now. (Photo: Union Power)
The "smart grid." We've all heard about it. It's discussed frequently on nightly news programs, in newspapers and even in political arenas. But what exactly is it? And what can you, as consumers, expect from it?
Simply put, a modernized electric grid will provide tools that will make electric service more efficient, reliable and affordable. It will also provide you with information and opportunities to control your energy use and eventually even plug into the grid as a generation source. Our electric grid, the nationwide network of poles, power lines and equipment that carries electricity from power plants to homes and businesses, has always been pretty smart. But just as we developed a need for smarter, digital phones, we've developed the need for a smarter, digital electric grid.
What to expect?
Historically, electric utility providers, including your electric cooperative, delivered power to homes and businesses and then sent employees to each and every home on the system to read meters. The process ate up employee time and company resources — until now.
With the implementation of technologies to modernize our grid, many electric utilities can read meters from their offices without ever having to send employees out in the field. This reduces operating costs, and because electric cooperatives are not-for-profit, any money saved on day-to-day operations will ultimately be returned to you, cooperative members.
Similarly, co-op employees have always had to "ride the lines" to discover the source of a power outage. As the electric grid becomes modernized, electric utilities will take advantage of the grid's two way communication — from the utility to the consumer and then back to the utility — to immediately identify any problems and quickly dispatch crews to fix those problems. This means fewer and shorter power outages for you. Many of North Carolina's electric cooperatives already have this technology in place.
That's not all. Until now, there's been no way to know — until it fails — if equipment within the electric system, like a transformer, is becoming overloaded or worn out. With modern technology, your electric cooperative can use sensors to monitor equipment and proactively repair or replace worn parts, improving reliability and reducing expenses by staving off potential power outages.
Applying digital technology to the electric grid creates a significant savings opportunity by delaying the construction of new power plants. Digital devices will be added to the electric grid that will allow your electric cooperative to better manage its load (the total amount of power being drawn at one time). Better load management has the potential to reduce or delay the need for new power plants, which are expensive to build. Because electric cooperatives have the goal of providing electricity at the lowest possible cost, any money they save helps keep your bill affordable.
A modern grid isn't just about improving system reliability and efficiency; it's about providing you with the information and tools you need to make choices about your energy use. Imagine managing your electricity use in a way similar to personal banking — instantly and online. With a modern grid, it will be possible for you to have a clear and timely picture of your energy use without waiting for your monthly electric bill. This will make consumers better informed about when to run heating and cooling systems or use major appliances in the home.
Revolutionizing the grid
Building our current electric grid was one of the greatest engineering feats of the 20th century. Modernizing it by applying new, digital technology could revolutionize the electric system and become one of the greatest accomplishments of the 21st century. A modern grid will benefit everyone by providing tools that allow consumers to become more engaged and service to be more efficient, reliable and affordable — an idea that we can all support.