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Power Technology

The Smart Grid Has Arrived 121

Posted by Soulskill
from the will-soon-have-its-own-app-store dept.
SternisheFan sends this excerpt from MIT's Technology Review: "The first comprehensive and large scale smart grid is now operating. The $800 million project, built in Florida, has made power outages shorter and less frequent, and helped some customers save money, according to the utility that operates it. ... Dozens of utilities are building smart grids — or at least installing some smart grid components, but no one had put together all of the pieces at a large scale. Florida Power & Light's project incorporates a wide variety of devices for monitoring and controlling every aspect of the grid, not just, say, smart meters in people's homes. ... Many utilities are installing smart meters — Pacific Gas & Electric in California has installed twice as many as FPL, for example. But while these are important, the flexibility and resilience that the smart grid promises depends on networking those together with thousands of sensors at key points in the grid — substations, transformers, local distribution lines, and high voltage transmission lines. (A project in Houston is similar in scope, but involves half as many customers, and covers somewhat less of the grid.) In FPL's system, devices at all of these places are networked — data jumps from device to device until it reaches a router that sends it back to the utility — and that makes it possible to sense problems before they cause an outage, and to limit the extent and duration of outages that still occur. The project involved 4.5 million smart meters and over 10,000 other devices on the grid."
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The Smart Grid Has Arrived

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    The Smart Grid Has Arrived

    But the "dumb grid" remains and is so entrenched that it will take generations or two to finally get rid of it. The up side is that when the last remnants of the "dumb grid" are replaced they'll be replaced by whatever is replacing the aged and out-of-date "smart grid".

    • by Anonymous Coward

      But the "dumb grid" remains and is so entrenched that it will take generations or two to finally get rid of it.

      And how long, exactly, did it take the 'dumb grid' to be built? How long do you expect it to take to change something as ridiculously large and complex as the US power grid?

      • by Kleen13 (1006327)
        I know, right? Not to worry. His cornflakes always have piss in them.
    • by oneiros27 (46144)

      I was at a meeting a year or two ago, and I think it was someone from NIST who gave a report on the status of 'smart meters'. I want to say it was a meeting to discuss how a community of practice should self-organize, and we had some reports on how different groups negotiated standards (IETF, W3C, etc.)

      If I remember correctly, there were two or more different protocols for smart meters that had been proposed, and in the process of negotiating the differences made some sort of requirement that the meters ha

      • by dpilot (134227)

        So now they're flashable, most likely remote-flashable.

        New attack vector - flash all of the meters into bricks.

        • The traditional method of stealing power, tapping cables, gets caught when the company notices the power going into the street is greater than the sum of meter readings. Simply hacking your meter to under-report consumption would give the same result.

          But hacking others on the same circuit too... that could work. For ever KWH you knock off your bill, add 1/10th of a KWH to ten of your neighbors. But you'd have to keep it balanced in real time, which makes it trickier again, the savings aren't worh it. It's t

          • Um, no. Power in is measured at the substation level and can't possibly catch an individual stealing 10's of kilowatts. Likewise, temperature variations change the efficiency of cables and transformers. Most often power thievery is caught by a jealous neighbor turning someone in.
            • by hamjudo (64140)
              Stealing power takes a certain level of knowledge and attention to detail. Quite a few power thieves manage to send themselves to the emergency room or morgue each year. This is far more common in regions where the theft rate is so high that the power companies install the brains of the meters on the pole transformers. They just put a remote display on the residence.
            • Power is is measured at the substation on a per-phase meter. Each house is served one phase. So the measure is for one-third of the houses in the area served by the substation. There is some random noise from temperature variation, but given enough time to average out the missing power will eventually raise an alarm. Not just because the company wants to stop power theft, but because they work with law enforcement who are very interested in finding properties sucking up crazy amounts of power - they may be

    • by 0123456 (636235)

      Given the 'smart grid' is just a way for power companies to charge you more for doing less, I'll keep my 'dumb grid', thanks.

      • by DamonHD (794830)

        The sour cynical answer is always the right one, of course. Except when it isn't.

        Rgds

        Damon

      • Given the 'smart grid' is just a way for power companies to charge you more for doing less,

        No, they charge you more for being dumb and less for being smart. Smart metering allows pricing to be adjusted by demand, so if you time shift your electricity consumption, you can save money. I have a smart meter, and I save by using the delay feature on my dishwasher. We only run the clothes dryer late at night. Soon you will be able to buy refrigerators and freezers that pre-chill with cheap overnight electricity (commercial units already do this).

        I'll keep my 'dumb grid', thanks.

        If you are dumb (or lazy), that is a good idea. Wher

        • by 0123456 (636235)

          No, they charge you more for being dumb and less for being smart. Smart metering allows pricing to be adjusted by demand, so if you time shift your electricity consumption, you can save money.

          Exactly my point.

          Today I can run any electrical device any time I want. In the glorious new 'smart meter' future I'll be paying more unless I run it when _THEY_ want.

          Certain people seem to think that putting their own devices in the control of a third party is a good idea. Personally, I'd rather just buy a generator like the rest of the third world with unreliable power supplies.

      • by hughbar (579555)
        Yes I agree, we're heading for asymmetric demand pricing [something I just made up] like the airlines and railways, it's expensive at the moment you need it, but the base costs remain constant. It's called automated blackmail or increasing shareholder value [in Europe, most of the utilities are privatised]. Also there's cash to be made on speculative option and contract purchase using the big data leeched out of the grid.

        Am I being cynical? No, just reflecting the values of late stage capitalism...
    • by operagost (62405)
      What's your point, Grumpy McNegative? "The lesson is: never try."
    • by Mashiki (184564)

      But the "dumb grid" remains and is so entrenched that it will take generations or two to finally get rid of it.

      I can only hope so that it will take so long. They've switched to a "smart grid" here in Ontario, and all you ever see is increasing hydro prices. 3% two years ago, 3% last year, 3% this year, yep right on track to have the most expensive electricity in North America by 2016. This is helped along by the "green energy act" here where we're paying 40-80c/kwh for solar and wind.

    • You know, because, as long as you have a "secure network" it's ok to have remote power shut off spanning an area as big as southern california, amiright? Who would want to (or even be clever enough) to hack a system like that?

      /S
  • OG&E in Oklahoma has had theirs done for well over 6 months. They have 3/4 of a million customers. That sounds plenty large to me.
    • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

      I'm not sure I'd class this as a true smart grid anyway. Smart grids store energy in batteries, there is lots of local generation feeding in to it, and appliances are connected so they can manage their energy use for maximum cost saving / efficiency.

      • Smart grids store energy in batteries

        I don't know that that's a fair statement. Smart would seem to imply the ability to adjust to changing demands. Such as slowing down AC when a brownout might be imminent. It doesn't have to have energy storage to be 'smart'. Wouldn't hurt, but I don't know that that's what the 'smart' is meant to mean.

        • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

          As the summary mentions we have had individual parts like the ability to slow down AC at periods of high demand for a while, and this is supposed to be the first time many such measures have been brought together. My point is that without small scale generation and storage it is far from what complete smart grids will look like in the near future when they are more common.

      • by RevDisk (740008)
        How could storing energy in batteries be anything like a "smart grid"? Storing energy in batteries is expensive and inefficient, and likely will always be barring some changes in current knowledge of materials science. We do it, because we want something to be off-grid and are willing to pay the price for it. Cell phones are a fairly good example.

        A true "smart grid" is merely a power grid where folks controlling it have a good picture of where power is being generated, where it is ending up and how it g
  • " and helped some customers save money, according to the utility that operates it. "

    I'll believe that when I can see an actual measurable decrease in my power bills. I'm only slightly less skeptical of utility companies than I am of politicians and cel providers.
    • As someone who works at a power company, you are correct in your skepticism (mostly). The decrease on your bill will come when you choose to run appliances like your washer/dryer on off-peak hours. This is similar to phone plans advertising free nights and weekends. They are trying to develop the habit in the consumer to use electricity when it's least desired so that electric generation can stay consistent.

      If you maintain your typical habits, then yes, you power bill will potentially increase. My compan
  • Really? (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    "The $800 million project, built in Florida, has made power outages shorter and less frequent."

    Can someone help me, I'm from old Europe, what's a 'power outage'?

    • Re:Really? (Score:4, Funny)

      by PPH (736903) on Friday May 03, 2013 @09:39AM (#43619909)
      Once upon a time, power utilities ran their lines overhead. One result of this is that trees falling in storms and other similar events would disrupt power. Thankfully, this construction technique has been abandoned in all but a few third world countries.
      • Re:Really? (Score:4, Informative)

        by Lumpy (12016) on Friday May 03, 2013 @09:45AM (#43619973) Homepage

        Except for the USA where they are still highly common because it is cheaper to stick wires on poles.

        • by ArhcAngel (247594)
          Not only that...It seems copper thieves don't mind digging for copper [nj.com] but climbing for it is less palatable.
        • by EmagGeek (574360)

          It's also 1000 times easier to repair them when they break, which is far less often than they break when they are underground.

        • Except for the USA where they are still highly common because it is cheaper to stick wires on poles.

          Or because they were built a log time ago. On Long Island a lot of the grid is post-WWII, when the great suburban build out occurred. In my part of it, much of the grid dates from the 60's or earlier and is all overhead. Newer development (last 10-20 years?) is mostly underground.

          We had a lot of trouble after Sandy. I lost power for 10 days. It's not just because it's overhead though. The secret to reasonable reliability w/ overhead lines is constant tree trimming, and that's the first thing they cut back

      • Once upon a time, power utilities ran their lines overhead. One result of this is that trees falling in storms and other similar events would disrupt power. Thankfully, this construction technique has been abandoned in all but a few third world countries.

        I wouldn't exactly call Japan a third world country ...
        (Just search for "Japan Power Lines".)

      • by PTBarnum (233319)

        One upon a time, power utilies ran their lines underground. One result of this is that idiots in backhoes and other similar events would disrupt power.

        Underground lines may be less vulnerable to disruption, but they are not immune. Plus, I don't think very many countries have their high voltage distribution lines underground for long distances.

        I'm not sure how the "smart grid" is supposed to reduce power outages; most outages are caused by the last mile medium and low voltage systems, and I don't think that

        • by PPH (736903)

          Maybe they can use the smart grid to pinpoint damage more accurately?

          My joking about overhead lines aside, this is precisely the goal. Of course, this assumes that the rest of the utilities' record keeping and event reporting infrastructure isn't hosed.

        • One upon a time, power utilies ran their lines underground. One result of this is that idiots in backhoes and other similar events would disrupt power.

          If a tree knocks down a power line, that is an act of God, and you can't sue God. But there is a national database of buried cables and pipelines. So if a backhoe operator breaks one, it is almost certainly his fault. After paying a few ten thousand dollar fines, he will either stop being stupid or switch to a different line of work. As a result of this self-correcting feature, buried cables are a lot more reliable than overhead cables.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        NYC had major power outages after Sandy. Was it because of all the wires on poles? Nope, it was because the utilities were underground, where it turns out they are vulnerable to floods. Who knew?

        • by dgatwood (11270)

          NYC had major power outages after Sandy. Was it because of all the wires on poles? Nope, it was because the utilities were underground, where it turns out they are vulnerable to floods. Who knew?

          Flip that around. NYC doesn't have major power outages a dozen times per year from snow and ice breaking the overhead power lines, tree branches, etc. Instead, every few decades, they lose power because of a flood. Most sane people will gladly take that over the alternative. :-)

        • by PPH (736903)

          Our underground systems are in a constant state of flood. They are designed to work that way. If you need to work in a vault, you have to pump it out first.

      • by operagost (62405)
        Once upon a time, running power lines overhead was the accepted way because electrical power was new and progress was driven by the early adopters. However, in barbaric areas where electrical power did not arrive until the 20th century, or due to repeated wars the infrastructure had to be rebuilt, underground lines are more common.
    • by alen (225700)

      in florida there are these things called hurricanes and thunderstorms. like the ones where the lightning hits the ground.
      hurricanes have winds up to 175 miles per hour for a day at a time

    • Re:Really? (Score:5, Informative)

      by phantomfive (622387) on Friday May 03, 2013 @10:16AM (#43620331) Journal

      Can someone help me, I'm from old Europe, what's a 'power outage'?

      This should refresh your memory [usatoday.com].Or this [ukpowernetworks.co.uk]. Or this [ubalert.com]. Or, this [bloomberg.com].

  • I indeed have difficulties in getting a grasp of how brownouts can be a problem and how you need a smart grid to prevent power outages.

    I only remember three outages, the most severe caused by a remarkable flood ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Sea_flood_of_1962 [wikipedia.org] ), the other two by a lightning striking into a transformer station.

    CC.

    • Every now and then the power will flicker enough to force you to reset clocks on appliances, but I haven't had a real outage in years. Probably not since the great mid-west blackout in 2003-4. Going back 15+ years, I remember having some outages from ice storms. Specifically when you get an early ice storm and the trees still have leaves on them. You get a TON more branches snapping lines that way. Doesn't happen often though.
  • by iceco2 (703132) <meirmaor@gm3.14ail.com minus pi> on Friday May 03, 2013 @09:55AM (#43620049)

    In many cases in the past building a power grid resilient to small power outages, automatically rerouting power around failed components
    only leads to it being more susceptible to large power failures caused by cascading failures.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Power_outage [wikipedia.org]
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cascading_failure [wikipedia.org]

  • Bad data (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PPH (736903) on Friday May 03, 2013 @10:00AM (#43620103)

    My power company installed 'smart meters' and an r.f. control and data acquisition grid over a decade ago.

    Several decades ago, I used to work for them. Back then, we began a task to build a database of customers, transformers, distribution lines and substation circuits. All with the idea of eventually implementing such a system. Customers records were linked to a 'grid number' which was tied to their serving transformer, circuit and substation. These grid numbers are actually put on every pole (and other physical asset) in the company.

    One of my engineering tasks was to review and correct errors in the database. At times, reports were generated that showed one small transformer feeding 50 or 100 customers (impossible without burning it up). A quick field review showed that many customers had been assigned to a few grid numbers many miles away. My suspicion was that some engineers were completing their paperwork sitting in a bar and these grid numbers were the ones visible out the front window.

    Fast forward to a few years ago: My cabin (build recently) lost power when a tree took out my service line during a large storm. After doing repairs, I called the power company (I no longer worked for for the past few decades). I told the service rep that I would be ready to have the transformer re-energized. She said, "Sorry. We have to wait for the other customers on that transformer to have their services inspected." Well, I happen to be down a long, lonely road. And my cabin is the only one feeding from that point. I know this because that used to be my business. I explained this to the c.s.r. She said, "But the computer says ..."

    "The computer's data is screwed up. It was screwed up 20 years ago when I worked there. It still is. Send a lineman out to put the fuse back in." She did.

    If this little anecdote reflects the current state of even a fraction of our utility infrastructure, its going to take much more than a few smart meters to straighten this mess out.

  • by FireFury03 (653718)

    US: Look! Less power cuts!
    Rest of the world: Whats a power cut?

    Every time I read about US infrastructure it makes it sound like a third world country...

  • It's interesting that the utility says "and helped some customers save money, according to the utility that operates it", but was there an overall average savings across all customers, or are customers paying more overall to pay off the $800M investment while the utility cuts their generating and transmission costs, earning more profit?

    • by ArhcAngel (247594)
      FPL is still a government regulated utility so their rates are set by the state of Florida. They can't raise or lower their rates without requesting a rate case hearing which takes at least a year to submit and can take as much as two years to get an answer. So it is in their best interest to be as efficient as possible. Full disclosure - I work for Nextera Energy [nexteraenergy.com] parent company to FPL.
      • by hawguy (1600213)

        FPL is still a government regulated utility so their rates are set by the state of Florida. They can't raise or lower their rates without requesting a rate case hearing which takes at least a year to submit and can take as much as two years to get an answer. So it is in their best interest to be as efficient as possible. Full disclosure - I work for Nextera Energy [nexteraenergy.com] parent company to FPL.

        PG&E in California has to go through the PUC before raising rates too, but that doesn't mean that they are efficient or use the money for what they said they will since there have been rate increases that were supposed to go to pipeline maintenance that never happened [turndev.org]. Now that a pipeline exploded with fatal results (and with PG&E discovering that it doesn't have a full audit trail for much of its pipeline network), they want ratepayers to pay again for the maintenance that they supposedly already

    • by tompaulco (629533)
      OG&E claims that 99% of their customers on their "SmartHours" program saved money last year. I was on the program and saved about $100 a month. I can say that I probably didn't use any less energy, as I already turn lights off an whatnot during the day and most of last summer it was so hot that the AC couldn't keep up even when the smart thermostats turned the temperature up during the day. However, their pricing plan for cheaper evening and weekend hours overcame the jacked up prices during peak hours
      • I got on a similar program like that years ago when it was a pilot program from my local utility. Things like the dish washer, cloths dryer, AC, etc were all well utilized during the low usage periods. I would have it so that the AC would chill the house up until right before the peak pricing kicked in then shut off until a little before anyone got home thus minimizing the peak power usage and still being fairly cool before it started back up. I figure that also took some of the load off the fridge and free
  • My guess is that all of this "smart" gear is tied into the internet, using default or no passwords. It will probably take some hacker shutting down a large section of the grid for the industry to get serious about security.
    • all of this "smart" gear is tied into the internet, using default or no passwords. It will probably take some hacker shutting down a large section

      At which point we should realize that neither the Internet nor the power grid is worth the trouble. I know being a neo-Luddite makes my day job as an EE seem hypocritical, but I gotta make a living somehow.

  • As I get older, I'm realizing that when an Industry slaps "Smart-"something on a product, it's more about the marketing and less about the architecture. This technology basically uses wi-fi in a mesh topology. Nothing could possibly go wrong.

    • As I became a teen I saw what we call "press" are just press release aggregators with a strong bias to anybody who has a history of paying for advertizing. Journalism would involve LABOR and that costs.

      We like to feel we are saving money because they say so but these upgrades cost us... even if eventually they every actually pass the labor savings onto the customers (unlikely) it is a blow to the local economy. Those union paid meter checkers contributed greatly to the economy (because they made a reasona

  • "All the interfaces and controls from the power plants down to your thermostat have been rationalised to use the same username (admin) and password (password) to save unparalleled amounts of time and money to be passed along as executive bonuses".

    "Now, that's PHB-level smart!"
  • A real "smart grid" would store excess energy when it is not needed and releases it during periods of most need. It would provide a buffer enabling more reliable, effecient and distributed means of generation.

    A "smart meter" just browbeats people into accomplishing a similar task with ultimatly much less resiliant outcomes.

    • by EmagGeek (574360)

      You are wrong on all accounts.

      As just one example, the Oconee power generation complex in south carolina stores energy during the night when the demand does not exceed the output of the nuclear plant, and then releases that energy during the day.

      Just because the storage medium is not some sexy new battery that pollutes the environment and releases toxic chemicals when it fails, does not mean this system is not smart.

      The storage medium in this case happens to be simply water. At night, when the nuclear plant

  • In Illinois were getting a "Smart Grid" which is supposed to make ComEds system more efficient. So of course that means we need to pay up front for the new meters and our electricity rates are going up. Yays for efficiency.

  • Let's hope they hire some actual security professionals to consult on these projects, and keep all these "smart" devices off the fucking Internet. The last thing we need is little Bobby Tables guessing the '1234' telnet password to the control systems for the 100MVA substation down the street.

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