How Smart Grid Technology Is Driving Renewable Energy
In April 2019, the amount of energy generated from renewable resources such as wind, solar and hydropower for the first time exceeded the total energy churned out by coal-powered electric plants, according to the Electric Power Monthly, published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. It was a landmark event, although renewable’s superiority was expected to be short-lived once seasonal adjustments such as the increase in hydropower dip. Still, it’s hard to overlook the ascendancy of renewable electric power generation.
Renewable energy, whether produced by regional utilities or self-contained enterprises, is thriving, and IoT infrastructure and related technologies can claim a considerable amount of credit for its rise. IoT enables effective management of these volatile and often widely dispersed electricity-producing resources through smart grid technology.
“With IoT, utilities can collect data and better manage their grid by detecting and restoring service outages quickly, and even create the concept of a ‘self-healing’ grid,” wrote Warren Westrup, director of business development, utilities, for Sierra Wireless, in a recent blog post, Powering up the Energy IoT with LTE Wireless Connectivity.
IoT Facilitates Renewable Energy Management and Growth
The Internet of Things can be even more than merely a good management enabler, according to Olivier Amiot, director of marketing, energy for Sierra Wireless. In a blog post, How the IoT Can Speed the World’s Transition to a Clean Energy Economy, he noted that “digital technologies – in particular, the IoT – can help us address the climate change challenge by accelerating the transition to a more sustainable, renewable-energy-powered economy.”
IoT infrastructure’s role as an indispensable component of a renewable energy grid is true for both privately maintained microgrid environments and those supported by regional utilities. This fact is especially true for wind farms, which rely on complex mechanical gear that requires each node to support dozens of or more sensors. Those sensors not only measure the performance of various node-level components but also take stock of current climate and environmental conditions to provide ample context for data analysis.
In many ways, the ability to collect so much data so quickly is breaking new ground in energy management.
“You’ve got this story of this invisible, dangerous commodity that travels at the speed of light that we call electricity and for the last hundred-plus years most people could interact with it in only the most rudimentary ways,” noted Mark Feasel, vice president of smart grid for Schneider Electric. Feasel added that with the current array of sensing devices “we’re capable now of [deploying] some devices that can capture information on electricity 60,000 times a second.”
Still Some Missing Links
The amount of electricity produced privately by both large businesses and other institutions such as universities and medical centers presents new challenges for both of those camps. These distributed energy resources — or DERs — must interconnect to ensure that power is produced efficiently and delivered promptly. The onus is clearly on the utilities, which absorb excess energy from DERs and provide a backstop for these institutions when their resources are not cranking at full throttle.