What Is Smart Grid, Precisely?

  October 2, 2013

Today's tip is about how you can best prepare your buildings for the new smart grid.

But first, facility managers need to understand what smart grid is, and what it isn't.

Basically, "smart grid" describes increased capabilities in the nation's energy grid that will allow for two-way communications between facilities (and even devices) and the utility. The smart grid will also provide better power reliability and quality, and better efficiency in transmission.

Facility managers have been hearing for years that smart grid is coming, and there's been tons of advice from vendors, consultants, utilities, and other industry experts about how facility managers should prepare to best reap the benefits. But here's a little secret: Smart grid, in large part, is here!

One of the sure signs that smart grid is here is the increase in automated demand response programs. There's even a credit in the new version of LEED - LEED v4 - for demand response. Even though many facility managers may not immediately recognize this as taking advantage of smart grid, an ADR is, in fact, exactly what a smart grid provides. Smart energy management systems that ratchet building systems up and down automatically during peak demand periods are commonplace now. Here's one simplified example: A smart meter can send a signal to the BAS so that a variable speed drive is slowed by 20 percent for 10 minutes. This reduces the motor's energy use by 40 percent. Once the 10 minutes are up, the VFD goes back to full speed and a different VFD is slowed. Occupants are unlikely to notice the change, and peak load is reduced. Small changes like this could add up to huge savings once facility managers become adept at looking for the many energy-saving opportunities smart grid provides.

The next evolution of what we're commonly calling smart grid - if we define smart grid as a s sort of catch-all term to refer to how utilities and facilities will interact - is real-time pricing. Facility managers will be able to program energy management systems to optimize how the facility uses energy when energy is the cheapest. They may not necessarily save a tremendous amount of kilowatt hours, but they'll certainly save cost.

While many of the overarching benefits of smart grid accrue to the utilities, these advantages are ones facility managers can take advantage of now. Explore these options with your local utility, if you haven’t already.


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