Using Smart Technology to Combat Power Failure
Who will you meet?
Cities are innovating, companies are pivoting, and start-ups are growing. Like you, every urban practitioner has a remarkable story of insight and challenge from the past year.
Meet these peers and discuss the future of cities in the new Meeting of the Minds Executive Cohort Program. Replace boring virtual summits with facilitated, online, small-group discussions where you can make real connections with extraordinary, like-minded people.
The importance of replacing the outdated U.S. electrical grid with smart grid infrastructure can’t be overstated. The benefits include energy efficiency gains, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and increased opportunities to bring innovations that benefit cities and businesses alike. Those motivations are more than sufficient to warrant rapid deployment of proven technologies, but the most compelling reason for upgrading to smart technology is defensive: The existing grid is breaking down.
This can be seen in the skyrocketing cost of power outages. The Department of Energy calculates that outages cost Americans $150 billion annually –nearly $500 per person every year. Other estimates in recent years have put the cost at $50 billion to $180 billion, depending on what impacts are included in the equation. But everyone agrees that the cost is mounting rapidly.
- The annual number of blackouts affecting more than 50,000 U.S. customers increased from 140 during 2000-2004 to 303 during 2005-2009, and the trend has continued with 52 such blackouts in 2010 and 109 in 2011, according to Massoud Amin, an electrical engineering professor at the University of Minnesota.
- Electric customers spent 43 percent more to maintain and repair existing infrastructure in 2011 than in 2002, but the average customer still spent 112 minutes without power in 2011, a recent Associated Press study of utilities found.
- When outages due to weather events are removed from the equation, the number of grid related failures has decreased slightly over the past decade, but the average recovery time is longer, AP reported.
How does reliability-oriented power loss cost cities and businesses? Consider the largest outage of 2011, which affected nearly 7 million people. Originating from a technician’s error in repairing a capacitor bank, the system failure knocked out switching stations like dominos across five utilities in Southern California, Arizona and Sonora, Mexico. Economic damage included four-hour commuter delays and numerous car accidents from failed traffic signals; contamination of beaches and unsafe water supply as sewage treatment plants failed; and a host of problems for hospitals, grocery stores, restaurants and other businesses—not to mention lost productivity for millions of workers.
A functioning smart grid would reduce the cost of power failure in several ways. First, outages caused by faulty equipment would be greatly reduced, as smart systems are able to identify weakening components before they fail. Also, local failures would not have the opportunity to spread across multiple grids, limiting the scope of problems when they occur. Finally, smart grids have the capacity to repair themselves, reducing the period of time people are left without power.
Amin of the University of Minnesota calculates that smart grid technology would save businesses and families $49 billion annually by avoiding power loss, plus another $20 billion due to energy efficiency. The $20 billion in energy efficiency would be saved mainly by utilities, which pass through most of the savings to (commercial and residential) electrical customers. Other sources note that annual investment of $20 billion to $30 billion would bring about a fully functioning grid within two decades, and would pay for itself many times over during that time. This argument leaves aside an achievable 20 percent reduction in carbon emissions from smart grid efficiencies.
Everywhere you look, the societal value that a universal smart grid can unlock is increasing rapidly:
- As data centers and other mission-critical facilities use an increasing share of electricity, the cost of power failure and the value of reliability and resiliency are increasing geometrically. Data center capacity is increasing by about 10 percent per year.
- As more utilities and companies turn to strategies such as demand response and distributed generation, the smart grid makes these strategies more effective.
- Large companies are turning to smart-building systems to improve energy efficiency and prevent power failures across their portfolios. The best of these systems duplicate many of the benefits of a smart grid on a smaller scale: 18 to 24 percent energy savings, the ability to manage energy portfolio-wide from a centralized location, automated diagnostic and adjustment capabilities, and short payback periods on implementation costs. The availability of a smart grid would expand these benefits significantly.
Businesses are starting to outpace cities and utilities in capturing the benefits that smart systems offer. Smart portfolio monitoring and control systems such as Jones Lang LaSalle’s IntelliCommandSM use cloud computing and algorithmic calculations to help corporate facility portfolios run at peak efficiency while minimizing downtime risk. These systems don’t need smart infrastructure to work, but a smart grid would supercharge the value of current technology and would open the door to a new world of innovation.
To understand how today’s smart building automation is ready for smart grid implementation, look at onsite power generation. Many facilities with heat-intensive uses, such as manufacturing plants, are already investing in co-generation, while facilities such as data centers are exploring combined heat and power (CHP) strategies. With the focus on energy efficiency and carbon reduction, distributed power strategies are expanding to other types of facilities.
Smart grid infrastructure would provide a market for excess energy generated at the site level, and would reduce the amount of energy lost in transmission. It is estimated that about 10 percent of energy from power plants is lost on the way to its destination, but the loss factor increases as the distance between the source and the end-use increases.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, via its ENERGY STAR program, estimates that the country’s 4.8 million commercial buildings spend about $108 billion on energy, and 350,000 industrial plants use another $85 billion. ENERGY STAR also notes that about 30 percent of that energy is wasted. That’s potentially $65 billion a year that could be saved from better monitoring and management of energy in commercial buildings.
The reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is a bonus for cities, where governments are concerned about the effects of climate change. Cities also care about efficiency. But more than any other issue, city leaders are continually focused on competiveness for business attraction and expansion. Cities that work with their utilities and business communities to accelerate installation of smart grids stand a good chance of winning in the future.
Leave your comment below, or reply to others.
Please note that this comment section is for thoughtful, on-topic discussions. Admin approval is required for all comments. Your comment may be edited if it contains grammatical errors. Low effort, self-promotional, or impolite comments will be deleted.
Read more from MeetingoftheMinds.org
Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
Since the Great Recession of 2008, the housing wealth gap has expanded to include not just Black and Brown Americans, but younger White Americans as well. Millennials and Generation Z Whites are now joining their Black and Brown peers in facing untenable housing precarity and blocked access to wealth. With wages stuck at 1980 levels and housing prices at least double (in inflation adjusted terms) what they were 40 years ago, many younger Americans, most with college degrees, are giving up on buying a home and even struggle to rent apartments suitable for raising a family.
What makes it hard for policy people and citizens to accept this truth is that we have not seen this problem in a very long time. Back in the 1920s of course, but not really since then. But this is actually an old problem that has come back to haunt us; a problem first articulated by Adam Smith in the 1700s.
More than ever, urban transit services are in need of sustainable and affordable solutions to better serve all members of our diverse communities, not least among them, those that are traditionally car-dependent. New mobility technologies can be a potential resource for local transit agencies to augment multi-modal connectivity across existing transit infrastructures.
We envision a new decentralized and distributed model that provides multi-modal access through nimble and flexible multi-modal Transit Districts, rather than through traditional, centralized, and often too expensive Multi-modal Transit Hubs. Working in collaboration with existing agencies, new micro-mobility technologies could provide greater and seamless access to existing transit infrastructure, while maximizing the potential of the public realm, creating an experience that many could enjoy beyond just catching the next bus or finding a scooter. So how would we go about it?
Dedicated anti-trafficking actors across the nation are trying to build better systems in big jurisdictions like New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, and in smaller but scrappy jurisdictions like Waco, Texas and Boaz, Alabama. They all share the same need, for stronger interconnectedness as an anti-trafficking field, and more collaboration.
The Forging Freedom Portal is a one-stop shop where a police officer planning a victim-centered operation can connect with their law enforcement counterparts, and the right service providers ahead of time, collaborating to make sure they’re planning for the language skills, social services, and legal support that victims may need. The portal is a place where the people who care most about ending human trafficking, who are doing the hard work every day on the ground, can learn from each other and share best practices to raise the collective standard of this work.