Smart grid islands could be solution to critical disturbances

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Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have devised a strategy to use local distributed electricity generation, distribution automation, and smart meters to form small electricity "islands" that would support critical social services in the event of a substantial disruption.

The researchers contend that rethinking the solution to sustaining electric power during extreme disturbances and starting small could keep critical services going, even when the high-voltage grid is crippled.

Distributed generation (DG), which collects and distributes electricity from many small energy sources rather than relying on large centralized power facilities, could be the solution whereby electricity circuits would be manually or automatically rerouted to form isolated energy islands powered by local DG units.

To achieve a smart grid DG system, utility companies need to install smart meters that can efficiently disconnect non-critical loads, add automated components to reroute electricity circuits, and upgrade fault-handling equipment and control software to ensure the smaller grid's reliability.

This sounds like a viable solution to a very real, very critical problem. However, getting there may not be so simple.

"There are currently a few obstacles to implementing such a strategy, including state laws that prevent the deployment of cost-effective combined heat and power (CHP) 'microgrids,' and the lack of incentive for power companies to invest in such a system," said Carnegie Mellon University researcher Anu Narayanan. "We have the technology to make our critical services less vulnerable to large blackouts. What we need now are the right policy initiatives to make it happen."

For more:
- see the report

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