More decision-makers are investing in grid modernization efforts, knowing that doing so is necessary for keeping pace with modern demands. For example, smart grid fault-detection sensors could warn utility company providers of problems in real time, preventing costly and inconvenient outages. Technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT) can also improve stability. An IoT grid-monitoring approach allows authorized parties to oversee electrical infrastructure from anywhere.
As people become more interested in electric cars and renewable energy, better reliability will be essential. Here are some specific use cases for the IoT in the electrical power industry.
Supervising grid-related performance and usage becomes increasingly challenging as companies broaden their infrastructure and serve more customers. Many decision-makers cope with this reality by investing in high-tech solutions that include IoT sensors for grid monitoring.
Such was the case with Florida’s Tampa Electric Co., which serves 800,000 customers and has 1,300 miles of overhead lines. Leaders had previously begun using a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool that helped them see the potential of data-driven processes. However, they realized it was time to become even more dependent on modern technologies.
They started by investing in advanced metering infrastructure. This allowed employees to receive direct grid performance statistics, view residential power availability, and handle disconnection or reconnection needs. Workers receive prompt outage alerts that sync with an internal work system. Crews are then dispatched to the correct areas, shortening the overall outage timelines. The system can even dim street lights or turn them on and off.
Besides allowing smart grid fault detection, this connected system can detect attempted tampering with connections. The data showed that it recognized all bypass-theft attempts with no false alarms.
Since IoT grid monitoring technologies work differently based on which vendors offer them, power industry leaders should think carefully about their must-have features and set associated goals. After verifying their budgets, people will be in a good position to start discussing the options with sales representatives.
IoT technology can also help operators get reliable grid capacity data and learn how certain types of weather can affect the statistics. For example, a high-voltage line can safely handle 10%-40% more current due to wind blowing at a right angle. The wind movement causes a cooling effect. However, researchers know ambient temperature and solar radiation levels affect how much cooling occurs.
A smart grid pilot project in Finland will use the IoT to get more accurate grid capacity estimates. Now is a great time to get them because there is an expected greater than 50% rise in the power company’s peak output by 2040. This initiative affects 12 substations and 12 municipalities within the provider’s distribution area.
The results could permanently change grid capacity decisions, which are typically static and chosen according to summer or winter conditions. However, this IoT project opens the possibility of accounting for dynamic weather in grid capacity determinations.
Energy operators must also pay attention to weather fluctuations in other areas of the world. For example, the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC) issued nine recommendations to address poor cold-weather performance, resulting in 4,124 power problems within Texas and the South Central United States in 2021.
Concerned professionals warn that grid modernization must occur without delay. The current aging infrastructure erected it long before risks such as ransomware attacks and wildfires were genuine threats. Fortunately, smart grid fault detection and other IoT technologies can support the electrical infrastructure by reducing external vulnerabilities.
One grid-monitoring sensor has a simple design but can capture 30 million measurements per second, giving operators unprecedented visibility. All the collected data goes to the cloud and is analyzed with artificial intelligence, allowing users to uncover potential issues quickly. The idea behind this initiative is that utility operators could get instant notifications of problems such as tree branches too close to power lines or overheated equipment. They can then act to resolve those issues and prevent catastrophic failures.
Data from IoT sensors could also identify which areas of a state or country need more robust electrical infrastructure to address emerging usage patterns. It then becomes more likely that the infrastructure will perform as expected and have fewer outages, even as areas become more populated.
IoT grid-monitoring solutions can also alert operators to periods when the infrastructure is under excessive stress. That’s a common problem during extreme heat. Customers who become more reliant on their air conditioners can cause widespread outages and costly problems at power generation facilities.
However, three of the biggest utilities operating in Arizona collaborated to ask customers to turn their air conditioners down when the grid experienced the most stress. This approach resulted in 100,000 parties collectively reducing electricity use by 276 megawatts during peak usage times. To put that into perspective, that is enough energy to power an entire single-family household that uses 1,200 Kilowatts per month for nearly 20 years.
How does the IoT fit into this initiative? All participants agreed to have utility providers install smart thermostats that remotely turn up the temperature by several degrees to relieve grid stress. Those customers can still opt out by manually resetting their thermostats to the desired temps. Many utility providers offer programs that allow customers to receive smart thermostats for free or at low costs. Consenting enables them to assist with IoT grid monitoring, increasing the chances of consistently available power.
Consumers increasingly expect power companies to play decisive roles in transitioning to greener energy. IoT devices have become critical for stimulating progress thanks to advances such as smart grid fault detection and predictive analytics.
Power plant managers can view up-to-date statistics about equipment performance, letting them intervene when something’s amiss. The facilities could easily become less efficient — and less sustainable — if problems go undetected for too long. Similarly, IoT sensors can gather historical data, showing how performance changes over time. Such insights could tell them when to repair or replace equipment. Utility professionals then have more time to respond to potential issues that could lead to wasted energy.
Anyone thinking about moving forward with IoT grid-monitoring initiatives should take the time to create a solid plan that covers installation, management, and protecting the grid and its technologies from cyberattacks. Getting feedback from employees, external experts, and others can help operators cover their bases. IoT devices can be fantastic for giving better visibility. Still, people must also think carefully about how, when, and why to deploy these solutions for the best results.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this and other guest author articles are solely those of the contributor, and do not necessarily reflect those of Tripwire.