Facilities also are continuing their efforts to become more sustainable, and one of the key functions of the Smart Grid — accommodating all power generation and storage options — can play a part. The design of today's electrical grid cannot integrate consumer-owned renewable sources, characterized by their intermittent production. Many financial incentives exist for sustainability initiatives, but the expanded use of these technologies affects a utility's ability to manage its peak generation.
One goal of the Smart Grid is to seamlessly interconnect fuel cells, renewable sources, microturbines and other distributed-generation technologies at all levels. This goal includes improvements dealing with fundamental challenges of bi-directional power flow on distribution systems, along with support of innovations related to energy storage. All of these innovations will enhance a manager's ability to control energy costs.
One key benefit for facilities from the Smart Grid involves the improvements in grid efficiency and resiliency that utilities have planned. As the grid becomes more intelligent, it will be able to automatically self-monitor and assess its reliability and adapt to changing conditions.
This enhanced functionality will mean greater reliability for customers, improved power quality, and potentially fewer failures of bulk-power systems. The communications overlay on the energy-distribution network also might have potential for new services, such as fire-alarm monitoring that can automatically shut off power in specific areas.
Most utilities have Smart Grid programs. Many of them involve testing of the technology via installation of utility-controlled smart meters or smart equipment. For managers interested in tapping the potential of Smart Grid technology, the first step is to contact their utilities. Preparing an energy measurement and use policy for the facility also is critical.
As energy costs continue to fluctuate, the economic incentives will only grow. Adding a more intelligent energy-management system will enable managers to take control of their organizations' energy future.
Ironically, although the creation of the Smart Grid and the standards by which the Smart Grid is being developed largely affect utilities — and utilities must install most of the infrastructure required to make the Smart Grid a reality — many of the top advances in Smart Grid technology have been in the consumer infrastructure market. The challenge for utilities is building the infrastructure needed to make the Smart Grid a reality to prevent a backlash against utilities if the technology cannot do what facilities expect.
Fortunately, the grid is becoming smarter every day. Managers who take advantage of the technologies evolving in the wake of the Smart Grid's development will find themselves with greater power to control their organizations' energy futures.
Kelly Mamer, P.E., LEED AP, is associate principal of Sparling, an electrical engineering and technology consulting firm with offices in Seattle, San Diego, Portland, and Houston. He has more than 20 years of electrical engineering experience in health care, hospitality, government, commercial, retail, and higher education facilities.
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