How to Prepare for a Power Grid Failure

Every day, people use electricity without a second thought. From switching on the lights to charging devices, electricity is used to sustain the way of life. Although it is used every day, not many people understand the power it takes or where it all comes from. All of America’s electricity comes from an electric grid that is run from asset owners, manufacturers, service providers, and government officials.

As the electronic infrastructure begins to age, the Office of Electricity (OE) is looking for new ways to transform, improve the ways of electricity, and prepare for a possible power grid failure.

Demand for Modernizing Electricity

For generations, electricity has been conducted one way. The ways of old electricity must come to an end and make way for new innovative technology. There is a higher demand for more efficient and reliable electricity. This way there will be far fewer power outages and other technical difficulties. Time and time again, storms cut out power and leave the public in darkness for sometimes days. By modernizing electricity, this will be a thing of the past. Not only will service be restored faster, but consumers will also be able to manage their usage and costs of electricity with a more modern approach.

Introducing ‘Smart Grid’

In an effort to modernize the power grid, the ‘smart grid’ is now being developed. The smart grid concept uses two-way communication technologies, control systems, and computer processing with sensors known as Phasor Measurement Units (PMUs) that alert operators of grid stability. It also gives consumers the ability to gain information on outages, recovers from outages more quickly through its sensors, has automated feeder switches that reroute power around problems, as well as batteries to keep excess energy to have readily available later in order to meet customer demand.

Benefits of a Modern Power Grid

Over the years, OE has put a considerable amount of investment and research into modernizing technology. Because of their efforts, the public could see a shift in the ways of the power grid. As they create innovative technologies and techniques for more reliable energy, there could be a safer and cheaper way of providing consumers energy. By having a system to analyze and optimize information to properly manage energy, less money will be put in fixing power outages and less electricity will be used irresponsibly.

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What Exactly Are Microgrids?

A microgrid is an energy module within a larger power source and can be disconnected from the main grid as needed. Microgrids are being used in various settings to create redundancy, to expand services in underserved locations and to model potential hazards of planned operations.

Key Features of Microgrids

Microgrids share a number characteristics, regardless of their exact configuration.

Energy Storage

Microgrids are hardware independent and their exact configuration can vary based on factors such as location and available resources. The most common type of energy stored is electricity but microgrids can be used to store thermal or mechanical energy if needed.

Electronic Configuration

Microgrids frequently feature assets like solar power or microturbines. The use of variable power sources requires interfaces that can harness and convert energy types.

Most distributed energy sources lose power when they are converted to another type of energy. Microgrids are configured with interfaces that minimize power loss, thus helping to conserve energy and to minimize the cost of providing electricity.

Efficiency Requirements

To achieve maximum efficiency, a microgrid must meet the following functional specifications.

  • Each microgrid must be able to function as a unified entity to properly interface with the main power grid.
  • Each grid must remain within its own power requirements and cannot borrow power from the main grid or from adjoining microgrids.
  • The microgrid must be able to regulate its own voltage and frequency internally.
  • Each unit must be able to deploy resources as needed to maintain energy output requirements.
  • A microgrid must be able to safely connect and reconnect with the main power grid during synchronization operations.

Implementation of Microgrids

Microgrids are often used in water treatment plants, transportation units and health care facilities. Their ability to create redundancy and failover make microgrids an indispensable part of technologies that are employed in mission-critical and time-sensitive operations.

Microgrids provide fault tolerance, bring energy to diverse geographic locations and offer a means to create alternative power sources. These features make microgrids an important solution that offers an opportunity to underserved locations and that promises to promote sustainability for our planet.

The Use of Oil in Big Industry

Crude oil use by the U.S. industrial manufacturers has been consistent since the economic crisis of 2008; though, the usage level is wholly lower than before the economic crisis. In place of crude oil, natural gas increasingly constitutes a greater proportion of total fuel consumption by the U.S. Industrial sector, specifically manufacturing. While natural gas constitutes an increasing proportion of total fuel consumption, crude oil (HGL) represents the largest share of energy sources used as components of manufacturing at almost 50%. Crude oil in particular is commonly used to make plastics and other chemicals. Petroleum products (counted as “other”) account for a third of energy source use as manufacturing components — raw materials in a manufacturing process. Total crude oil and related products constitute a large majority of the quarter of total energy sources first used as a manufacturing component. Regardless of use as manufacturing components or as energy, the largest consumer of energy sources are the chemical, refining, and mining industries. These three industries account for more than half of the total energy consumption by industrial manufacturers. This means there is some competition between using energy sources for energy or for manufacturing processes.

Energy consumption in the manufacturing industry was estimated in 2016 to be about 75% by the USEIA. Natural gas has markedly seen increasing use. Consumption has steadily increased from 2010 to 2014. This reveals increases in natural gas usage as potentially negatively affecting crude oil usage growth trends over the same time period.

Energy generation on-site is a common practice by manufacturers as an alternative to purchasing energy. One prominent method of producing energy on-site is combined heat and power loops. Natural gas and coal constitute a substantial portion of on-site consumed energy at 96%, and renewables constitute 1%. Crude oil does not constitute substantial use for on-site energy generation by manufacturers. This means that crude oil is used for energy production off-site, and energy produced from the crude oil is then distributed to manufacturers in the industrial sector.

Overall, crude oil use by the U.S. Industrial sector has remained steady in the last few decades besides significant decreases in consumption during the 2008 economic crisis. The potential growth of crude oil appears to be stunted by the increasing use of natural gas.

Blackouts and Power Grids

Blackouts and Power Grids _ Blake Zimmerman Houston

Our lives on this planet today greatly rely on electricity. Electric power is a basic necessity for both home living and work environment. The millions of us cannot afford to live without this great resource. Unfortunately, our smooth lives get inconvenienced and interrupted by numerous blackouts on our power grids. Whereas such blackouts are greatly inevitable, it is our responsibility to implement other channels of research and development to come up with amicable solutions that can help boost the efficiency of our grid system.

Power blackouts are commonly associated with certain major inconsistencies and inconveniences in the power generation and transmission process. Stabilizing the generation and utilization of power is the main goal of most power generating and regulating companies. The solutions developed so far focus on 3 main areas, including monitoring, anticipating, and isolation of power problems.

Monitoring of Electric Power

Monitoring of electric power starts from the moment power is generated in the various channels of electric power generation we have today. Real-time monitoring is done using an array of sensors which monitor various electrical parameters, including the current produced and the voltage generated. Research and development has led to the deployment of automatic monitoring systems capable of interfacing correctly with human interventions where the need arises.

The Anticipation of Electric Problems

The power monitoring arrays work hand-in-hand with other computer software capable of analyzing fluctuations in various electric power parameters. If the threshold of such fluctuations hit a certain level, then the entire system notifies operators for a human intervention to be coordinated. Some of the crucial parameters used to anticipate electric problems include a potential overheating of utility systems such as transformers. The goal of anticipating a problem is that corrective action can be initiated right before the entire system overloads and quits.

Isolation of a Certain Grid

In cases where inevitable power outages do occur as a result of a failure, operators and stakeholders in the electric power generation and transmission process have come up with an objective of isolating an entire area affected by the problem. This has led to the creation of power islands, each capable of working in isolation without necessarily affecting the entire grid.

Research and development is highly necessary when helping ensure the autonomous functioning of the entire grid system. If such a breakthrough is arrived at, we will be able to have a self-healing smart grid system.

This article was originally posted on BlakeZimmermanHouston.net on June 12, 2019.