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Major storms highlight need for smart grid

SUBNET Solutions Inc | Monday, July 09, 2012

A large portion of the U.S. has been blanketed by a heat wave that has brought record-setting temperatures, and to make matters worse, the effects of a previous storm have left thousands across the country without power.

According to the Globe and Mail, more than 300,000 houses and businesses lost power in Michigan after one storm flooded highways, and in some segments of Ohio, thunderstorms and lightning knocked out power to many homes. But West Virginia may have felt the worst of the storms, where almost half of the capital city lost power after damaging winds.

All of these outages indicate a common problem that is found all over North America: The power grid is still highly vulnerable to interruptions. The problems include an antiquated electrical infrastructure and somewhat slow development and deployment of new smart grid technologies. This lag in development is partly due to the highly complex system, which requires additional training, and the costs associated with such deployments.

The solution may lie in a more intelligent grid, similar to what has already been developed in progressive towns such as Austin, Texas, and Boulder, Colorado. Massoud Amin, an engineering professor at the University of Michigan, said the installation of intelligent electronic devices that can provide data on outages and reroute power to mitigate the risks of disturbances is necessary for the new grid, the media outlet stated.

"With climate change, we can expect more bad weather occurring," Amin said. "Having a stronger grid and a smarter grid, we can reduce by an order of magnitude the effect of an outage."

Although the initial costs to install such systems will be high - about $476 billion across the U.S., according to the Electric Power Research Institute - Amin said the benefits that come with these new devices will far outweigh the costs. However, the changes will likely need to come all together, creating new interoperability issues.

"When you talk about a grid, you’re looking at something that’s national," said Richard Bajura, director of the National Research Centre for Coal and Energy at the University of West Virginia. "Everybody has to upgrade simultaneously."

SUBNET developed its Unified Grid Intelligent interoperability philosophy to help utilities with real-time integration of intelligent utility systems. SUBNET products help utilities collect and manage data securely, adhering to strict NERC CIP regulations. 

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