A changing energy landscape

A typical electrical grid consists of large-scale centralised power generation plants which generate power, which is then transmitted at high-voltage by the High Voltage Transmission grid to substations located nearer to the end-users. The electric power is then ‘stepped down’ at these substations via a transformer to a lower voltage to be further distributed to consumers. The transmission of electricity is one-way from the generator to consumer, and none of this electricity is stored. Therefore, all the electricity generated must be consumed.

Consumers of this electricity have meters inside or outside their house displaying their electricity consumption to allow utilities to bill the consumers for their use. Meter readers would come around once or maybe twice a year to read the meters. Using information on the size of the house and other demographic information, and the readings themselves, utilities would give the occupants estimated monthly electricity bills. If the consumer does not pay their bills or there is a dispute, in some grid systems, the electricity supply to the house would need to be turned off manually.

In the event of a blackout or reduced voltage, consumers would then call the utility to inform them of the problem. Otherwise the utility would have no way of knowing the extent and the location of any problems in the grid system. Following the call, the utility would then send a repair team around to asset the damage and resolve the problem.

The smart grid aims to change the way this electricity is consumed in part to adapt to a changing grid network in which small scale electricity generation takes place through (for example) rooftop solar. Additionally, the smart grid allows grid operators to better monitor the infrastructure through new means of communication and technical monitoring. As a bonus to the consumer, smart meters can offer insights into energy consumption and simplified billing.