Smart Grid: Possible ointment for sting of deadly power outages

Oct 30, 2012

The images are everywhere: whole sections of lower-Manhattan dark, the electric grid blown out by Hurricane Sandy.

It shouldn’t be that way, say some northwest technology experts, who want to see the modernization of our electric utilities. Their answer? Something called the “smart grid."

Dan Richman is a former Senior Reporter with Smart Grid Today. He lives on Whidbey Island, where power outages are routine in windstorms. He says that’s usually just an inconvenience when you’re used to it. But he also says there's the potential to avert disasters, with the smart-grid.

“It’s a shorthand way of saying, let’s add computer intelligence and 

two-way communications to the power delivery system.”

This technology is being tested all over the country, including in New York – and in some cases, deployed effectively, Richman says.  So, utilities can have automated “fault detection” – where little nodes in the power grid give off a last-gasp digital signal before they go down, rather than relying on customers to call in and complain.

“There’s also what’s called ‘self -healing,’ which is not only telling you where the faults are but automatically finding an alternate way of delivering power.”

Some of this is already in play here in the northwest. For example, the University of Washington and Seattle City Light are part of a multi-state demonstration project, funded jointly with the US Department of Energy.

But some of the most advanced utilities are elsewhere: in Austin, Texas, Chatanooga Tenessee and San Diego.