How solar and battery technology are advancing the smart grid

Smart grid technology is now ingrained in modern power distribution systems worldwide. Many countries have reinvigorated their power grids with smart grid systems that enable active monitoring, distribution optimization, outage notification, and much more. And as adjacent technologies are integrated into utility intelligence, we’ll continue to see iterative improvement to the smart grid.

Solar and battery technology are profoundly impactful examples of adjacent tech contributing to smart grid energy efficiency. While solar energy has long been an alternative to traditional grid power, advancements to solar panel modules, power inverter technology, smart meters, and battery technology have made this once-rare energy source commonplace in residential and commercial electricity grids. This article looks at how smart grids and renewable energy technology work together to make electrical energy distribution more efficient and reduce carbon emissions around the globe.

Modern Renewable Energy

New residential construction in many parts of the world now features solar panels. In California, for example, all new residential construction is required to have Solar Photovoltaic (PV) systems integrated with the homes’ electricity systems (see DSIREUSA.org for a complete list of solar policies and incentives across the US). These PV systems are often automatically integrated into the utility power grid to allow two-way power distribution. This power distribution methodology creates incredible smart grid energy efficiency for utility providers, as they can limit fossil-fuel generation and distribute power closer to the point of use.

On a sunny day, a single PV solar panel can produce almost 2kWh of electricity — enough to power a single LED light bulb for eight days. Most residential solar installations have five to 20 solar panels, generating hundreds of kWh of electricity daily. Most residential homes do not consume large amounts of electricity during the day, so this excess energy can be stored or shared.

If a home does not have local battery storage, the excess energy created is passed into the utility grid to contribute to the utility provider’s demand-based services. Utility providers that ‘harvest’ energy from independent PV producers often provide incentives and compensation to these producers, such as consumption-rate discounts or direct energy contribution paybacks.

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Benefits to Utility Providers

In energy grids, the largest inefficiency in the system is the distribution of energy. For utility providers, localized energy production is beneficial because it drastically reduces their electricity transmission distance and generation demand. For example, if a residential home does not have solar energy, the utility provider must provide all its energy. The utility provider generates that energy (often using fossil-fuel power plants) and then transmits it long distances to the point of use.

When a nearby independent PV producer(s) contributes excess energy to the grid, that energy can be passed to other consumers, reducing both the demand on the power plants and the total energy transmission distance to the point of use. This transmission distance reduction can reduce carbon emissions indirectly and cut operating costs for the utility provider.

Solar PV & Battery Storage

Residential and commercial battery storage systems add another dimension to renewable energy smart grid technology, as these battery systems can provide local energy to the consumer or utility company at night. In the winter, most residential energy consumption occurs during non-energy-generating times of day.

Lighting, cooking, and watching TV often happen after dark when solar panels produce no electricity. Large battery systems can store energy generated by PV systems during the day, provide that energy to the consumer in off-hours, and even provide power to the utility grid if it is underutilized by the point-of-generation consumer. Once mass-adopted, these battery systems become integrated into the grid, essentially forming grid storage that can be instantaneously utilized at a grid level.

Smart Grid and Renewable Energy

Smart grid technologies aim to reduce fossil fuel consumption, increase renewable energy generation, optimize distribution system efficiencies, and make electricity affordable for the consumer. Solar photovoltaic and battery storage systems contribute newfound efficiencies to the smart grid. These systems smooth a grid’s demand curve, reduce grid stress, lower grid maintenance cost, and reduce carbon emissions. This advancement of the smart grid saves both the consumer and utility provider money.


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