What are smart grids - the new, intelligent electricity networks

The move away from electricity produced by huge power stations to distribution generation from renewable sources makes the use of smart grids essential

Published on 25 November 2019

what are smart grids

There is much talk about smart grids these days. But what exactly are they? Traditionally, electricity was produced in industrialised countries by a limited number of huge power stations that could cover the energy requirements of a wide geographical area or an entire nation. Today, however, methods of generating electricity are radically changing with the spread of small-medium scale renewable systems, using photovoltaic, wind, micro-wind and mini-hydroelectric power. These systems can fulfil local needs but their production can be discontinuous on account of the variability of natural phenomena such as wind and sunlight.

The old centralised system is being replaced by a type of energy production that is spread out all over the country and which is far more complex in terms of control and management. Indeed, if electricity production is greater than the transport capacity of the network or the energy requirement in any given moment, then all excess power is wasted.  Not only that, the sudden peaks and changes in tension which are typical of renewable source production can cause physical damage to the grid itself.

These critical issues have made it necessary to create distribution grids with a non-traditional type of energy management: these are the smart grids. Their “smartness,” or intelligence, lies in the use of technology such as accumulation systems. This means that the excess energy produced can be stored and returned to the grid when required, while IoT (Internet of Things) systems can send data to the grids in real time for efficient consumption predictions. Equipment of this type includes the new generation electronic meters that are currently being installed in homes across Italy.

Technology also enables analysis of the consumption data gathered. This can be used both for predicting the amount of electricity required, in order to manage production and distribution, and for identifying wastage and letting users know. A completely functioning smart grid, therefore, is one that provides consumers with suggestions on how to save on utility bills befitting an environmental sustainability and a circular economy perspective.

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