“Smart grid” is a term recognized now in many circles, but why exactly does the grid need to be smarter? For one, the current power grid has trouble matching power supply and demand, wasting energy or leading to outages. Power must be generated from a relatively small number of very large facilities, and in quantities that meticulously fit the predicted load curve. This problem stems partly from the fact that the grid was built to facilitate only unidirectional flow of power and control – a topology that is increasingly more costly to maintain. This means that today’s infrastructure is not only less efficient and less robust, but it is also incapable of incorporating a significant amount of renewable and non-dispatchable energy sources into the grid.
Viewed at its highest level, the smart grid can be understood as any and all technologies, standards, and practices that contribute to a more efficient and more reliable power grid. Simply enabling greater consumer participation can accomplish much of this, and is an overarching goal of smart grid. Dynamic energy pricing allows consumers to adjust when and how high-load devices are used, ultimately lowering energy bills and reducing the demand spikes which can lead to power outages. A smart appliance can even do this automatically, optimizing its operation to minimize cost and waste – a feature of smart grid called “prices-to-devices”.
Smart grid technology promises this and many additional methods for reducing waste, lowering peak demand, improving grid reliability, and integrating renewable resources. The roll-out of smart meter devices has been significant and smart grid technology continues to gain momentum with each new innovation. The power grid may have been created "dumb", but Mouser Electronics offers the newest products and tools to help raise its IQ.
By today's technological standards, the common electromechanical energy meter is a relic of the past – incapable of anything but flat-rate pricing and infrequent meter readings.
Smart meters go well beyond the rudimentary functions of a basic electrical meter. Above all, the distinguishing quality of a smart meter is to support 2-way communication with utility providers. This is the key that opens the door to all other "smart" functions and the benefits thereof. Smart meters can provide support for remote diagnostics, dynamic pricing, tamper notification, consumption analysis, and more.
What does this mean for utility customers? For one, it creates something that has not existed since the grid's creation: an informed consumer base. People can analyze their own energy usage in as much detail as desired and then adjust the amount, manner, and time in which high load devices are used. Even today, most consumers are unaware that for utility providers, the cost of a kWh is greater during times of peak demand – after all, electricity is traditionally billed at a flat rate. By offering dynamic pricing based on real-time energy demand, electric companies create opportunities for customers to significantly lower their energy bill with simple changes, such as using the clothes dryer at off-peak hours. Also, these kinds of changes have the effect of reducing or "shaving" the demand peaks over the course of a day, which can further reduce energy costs.
Smart Meter solutions such as Automated Meter Reading (AMR) and Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI), along with smart appliances, provide many benefits to utility companies and their customers. Customers become empowered by controlling these devices via remote computer or smart phone. For utility companies this adds a level of service that includes outage detection, better demand response, more flexible billing cycles, remote meter control, more accurate readings, and reduced time needed for manual data collection. Using smart meter solutions allows utility companies to avoid outdated methods for calculating energy usage at each residence.
Smart Grid represents a spectrum of rapidly evolving technologies. As design complexity increases and design cycles continue to shrink, development tools are often all but essential. In the area of Smart Meter, development kits and boards provide designers the means to evaluate and become familiar with the latest Smart Grid products.
In addition to accelerated time-to market, development kits can further provide the benefits of directly applicable, pre-tested circuits, readily available printed circuit board (PCB) layouts, and a common platform from which to create and debug customized designs.
The often iterative process of design must include development and testing beyond mere circuit simulation. Test and Measure equipment like oscilloscopes help engineers shorten the process by allowing multiple measurements across various ICs being used.