Many people take electricity for granted. When outages occur, they quickly remember how much they need it to power their lights, computers, and essential appliances. The increasing dependence on a stable electric grid has compelled many industry professionals to use the Internet of Things (IoT) to increase resilience.
Grid resiliency refers to efforts that reduce the effects and duration of power disruptions. A resilient grid can quickly recover after such events. Resiliency is different from reliability. The latter is about making power outages less likely, but many grid resilience efforts also increase reliability. How can IoT technologies create a more resilient power grid?
1. Increased Strategic Enhancements
Power outages are more likely when electrical grids are overloaded. That’s why most industry employees consider ongoing improvements essential to resilience. Many electricity companies encourage customers to do what they can by using less energy during peak demand periods. However, power company professionals must also explore ways to curb excessive usage, especially when they can’t immediately modernize the infrastructure.
Some city officials use IoT to minimize grid stress that could lead to outages if left unchecked. In March 2022, some authorities associated with specific Japanese prefectures had to curb electricity use when a powerful earthquake put some power plants temporarily out of service. IoT made it easy for officials in Nasushiobara to comply. The area has hundreds of smart street lights that people can dim remotely to minimize usage.
An overtaxed grid poses more challenges during restoration efforts and could make outages more widespread. When that happens, it takes longer for all customers to get their service back.
Grid resilience becomes much easier when power industry operators can immediately see how and where people use electricity most. Such insights will become increasingly important as electric cars get more popular. The power points for these cars come in three types, each with a different charging speed.
Decision-makers at electric companies could take data from IoT devices and elsewhere to determine when and where to update specific grid sections and parts. An Italian transmission system operator used an information-driven approach and devoted almost a year to identifying grid vulnerabilities and mitigation responses. That method ensured the appropriate and effective use of funds while promoting resilience.
2. Streamlined Personnel Distribution
Line restoration workers are foundational to grid resilience because their skills and equipment return power to affected customers after outages. However, those recovery efforts don’t necessarily happen in ways that seem logical to the average person.
Most individuals can probably recall being without energy for days while neighbors on the adjacent street had their lights back on only an hour after the disruption.
Power company crew chiefs have the daunting task of allocating resources to benefit the most people as quickly as possible. They also must account for the electrical disruptions’ ramifications. For example, an area with a hospital or nursing home would get power back before a housing development does.
IoT technology keeps the grid resilient by pinpointing affected areas. Leaders can use that information to determine how many workers to send somewhere and what equipment they’ll need. The associated insights are critical after massive events, such as hurricanes.
These storms can cause tens of thousands of people to lose power across large areas and several states, making it tricky to determine which problems to tackle first.
However, IoT aids planning, giving people the knowledge to make confident judgment calls before sending crews out into the field. IoT can also make crew managers aware of downed trees or other obstacles that need clearing before work begins. Leaders with relevant information before distributing workers to affected areas can equip them to do their jobs more productively.
3. Improved Supply Chain Preparedness
Business owners are particularly concerned with grid resilience since essential equipment needs power to run. Estimates suggest an hour of manufacturing downtime could cost between $500,000 and $5 million, depending on the extent of the issue.
Power industry professionals know outages can have massive effects. It’s mildly inconvenient if a person can’t charge their smartphone to keep playing games on the device. However, it can be catastrophic if someone needs electricity to run an essential medical device.
Maintaining a resilient grid is more than having enough professionals to handle necessary repairs. It also requires utility companies to have enough spare parts to immediately fix or replace things without ordering components and waiting for them to arrive.
One Ohio pilot project used IoT to support that aim. This initiative involved attaching IoT sensors to garbage trucks during their routes. The hardware received radio frequency transmissions from pole-mounted electrical grid parts. People could then analyze the data to identify the issue type and severity. Early alerts make people more proactive, allowing them to place and receive part orders well before failures occur.
However, the Ohio project also highlighted how grid resilience and reliability intersect. When people on this initiative received an IoT alert about a faulty isolator, they responded quickly, sending crews to examine the matter. Doing so prevented almost 300,000 people from experiencing power outages.
Of course, there will occasionally be times when professionals can’t catch problems in time. Even so, they can boost grid resilience by regularly monitoring IoT data to see which parts fail most often or will need replacing soonest. That data can inform their future supply chain efforts, reducing or eliminating delays in getting the grid functional again.
Supporting Grid Stability
Aging infrastructure and climate change-driven storms are some of the many things making grid resilience more necessary than ever. Fortunately, advanced technologies, including IoT, can give electric company operators better visibility, empowering them to respond promptly when abnormalities arise.