$8 Billion in smart grids investments. What difference did It make?
In prior articles, I wrote about the vulnerability of the nation’s electrical grid. After all, the picture of the U.S. energy infrastructure is far from rosy. An analysis of the electricity outage data reported via DOE’s Electric Disturbance Events Annual Summaries yields the trends shown in Figure 1 . Outages in the U.S. are on the rise; in fact, the average number of outages doubles every 5 years. Extreme weather events caused major outages. Events such as the NE Blackout (2003), Pacific NW Storm (2006), Hurricane Irene (2011), Hurricane Sandy (2012), and the East Coast Derecho (2012) caused major outages impacting significant portions of the country. One notable trend is the increased occurrence of vandalism events, which have been on the rise since 2010.
In recent years, government programs such as the Smart Grid Investment Grant (SGIG) – which spanned 2009-2014 as noted in Figure 1 – have placed a renewed emphasis on modernizing the electrical infrastructure, with emphasis on increasing resiliency [2, 3, 4]. The SGIG program consisted of 99 cost-shared projects, involving more than 200 electric utilities and participating organizations. With $8 billion of joint investment between the U.S. government and grant recipients, SGIG rapidly deployed a wide array of smart grid technologies. As a result, over 15 million smart meters and 1,200 phasor measurement units were deployed, in addition to 19,000 units of distribution technology (e.g., automated switches) and an assortment of customer systems (e.g., in-home displays).
But, what difference did it make? What is the impact of smart grid technology deployment on the resilience of the U.S. electricity infrastructure?
Based on available SGIG data, one way to view the impact is to look at the duration of the electrical outage before and after SGIG. In Figure 2, we compare SGIG’s smart meter deployment against the total duration of the outages as experienced across the U.S. (with causes sited as severe weather and vandalism). Reviewing Figure 2 in the context of Figure 1, we see that, although the number of outages has increased since 2010, outage duration is decreasing. Indeed, there is good correlation between the deployments of smart meters and the decrease of outage duration for events caused by severe weather. The duration of the severe weather outages tapers downwards after 2011, after the deployment of 14 million smart meters and 19 thousand units of distribution equipment (e.g., automated switches and capacitors) by 2012. This strong correlation implies that smart grid technological advancements have made the grid more resilient to severe weather; however, there is insufficient data to conclude a direct cause-and-effect relationship. The correlation between the duration from vandalism and smart grid technologies is less clear.