The effect of smart grid technology on energy usage and power systems in the UK (part 2)

Self-generated energy and the distributed grid

Self-generating energy is a prospect that certainly appeals to savvy consumers looking to both support sustainability and save money on their energy bills. Self-generating energy at home and feeding it back into the grid will of course require the development of smart storage technologies compatible with the new infrastructure. Entrepeneur, Elon Musk of Tesla has proposed a new device to do just that.

The Tesla Powerwall is a simple white battery which harnesses energy from renewable sources like wind and solar to both store that energy for household use and feed it back into the system. With an energy storage device in every home, self-generated energy can be stored and exported back to the grid at times of high demand, an idea that’s being referred to as the distributed grid. This will offset the current strain on the transmission grid and solve the problem of wind and solar farms producing energy when there is no demand and nowhere to store it. With the distributed grid, green energy sources could be more fully-utilised as their effectiveness would be less dependant on cloud cover and seasonal variations in wind speed.

The big data challenge

Although the current electricity grid deals with vast amounts of energy, it has surprisingly little data about that energy. Often, the only way that utility providers know about a power outage is when consumers phone it in manually. With the smart grid, all this will change. The new challenge will be managing an influx of big data many orders of magnitude higher than what is currently received.

It’s processing this information that poses the greatest problem. Every single sensor across the smart grid will be relaying a continuous stream of information. Combine this with the 30 million smart meters in the UK each taking a reading every 10-15 minutes and what results is a massive 1.5 terabytes of data generated every single day. The technology required to manage this data is known as ‘stream computing’ and while many tech companies are working on solving this problem, there are still wrinkles to be ironed-out before the smart grid can be deployed.

While the potential for energy efficiency using smart grid technology can’t be denied, there are still many concerns to be addressed. What’s certain is that smart grid technology is here to stay and the time for debate surrounding its shortcomings is now.