New opportunities and challenges in Smart Grids

Published by Telefónica IoT Team IoT General, Energy

Since the first electrical grid appeared in the 19th century, the world that we know has undergone the greatest changes ever. Thanks to the energy available everywhere and at all times, we can achieve goals that were simply impossible just two hundred years ago. But the world has not stayed static. Energy is evolving. Smart energy grids already augur a brighter future for humanity. And the Internet of Things is driving much of this change.

Smart energy

We are currently witnessing the rise of smart meters, networks and other smart energy systems. The first smart meters capable of automating the monitoring of large customers’ energy consumption were incorporated back in 1980. It was only a matter of time before meters appeared to solve the problems of ordinary networks, those that concern all users. The first networks that could perform this kind of measurement yielded outstanding results, and thanks to them customers could stop worrying about errors and estimates in their consumption, saving companies and users both money and effort.

But that’s not all. They also reduce the workforce and even the maintenance of many energy systems and networks. In addition, smart energy systems allow users to get precise information on their needs. This translates into the possibility of choosing the schedules and tariffs that best fit their profiles. More generally, the existence of smart energy networks goes even further since it allows companies and large entities to manage energy production and distribution more efficiently. This means cheaper, cleaner and more efficient energy.

From smart meters to smart grids

How has the way we understand energy distribution changed? Smart systems have evolved little by little as technology has paved the way for new changes. Thus, for some years now we have been witnessing the implementation of smart meter systems in homes, something that greatly benefits both users and providers. So is this a smart grid? In reality, smart grids are one step ahead in technological advancement. Thus, while smart meters precisely monitor consumption and allow information to be transmitted in both directions, smarts grids allow the coordination of protection, control, instrumentation, measurement, quality and energy management, among many others, to be concatenated in a single management system. The objective  is to make efficient and rational use of energy under all circumstances, including renewable energy sources, storage systems, etc.

Since today users not only consume but can also produce electricity, the energy flow is now two-way. Smart power grids let you manage this two-way flow and help save energy, reduce costs and increase usability and transparency. This increases the level of reliability and quality in the electric power supply as it allows any problems to be detected and isolated, contributing to the recovery of electricity. It also provides customers with tools to optimize their own consumption, generating active management of the demand. Of course, all of this contributes to saving resources and maintaining environmental sustainability. One of the greatest challenges of electrical networks is storage. Smart grids facilitate resource management, increasing the possibilities of energy storage. But the greatest achievement by smart grids, something that far exceeds the mere implementation of smart meters, is the improvement in consumption efficacy. Smart electrical grids are vital to the adequate distribution of energy flows, guaranteeing flexibility in the management of demand peaks with the consequent reduction in the need for new generation facilities.

IoT, driver of the energy evolution

So what role does the Internet of Things play in all of this? These smart grids are only possible thanks to connectivity and IoT technology. As smart cities move forward, and with them the IoT, smart electrical grids take advantage of the range of connection possibilities, data processing and the ability to respond immediately. The IoT allows for constant connection with the networks and the management centre. It also offers technologies to manage large flows of information and analyze Big Data. In addition, it provides two-way solutions to take control and palliation measures in case of problems. The control that is given to users is also very important, since they can use applications and solutions that allow them to directly control their energy consumption, maintaining direct communication with the supplier. In this way, the IoT naturally becomes the driver guiding the technological evolution that will define the future of energy in our world.

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Telefónica IoT Team