The unprecedented dry weather sweeping the US has raised demand for electricity, straining the antiquated power grid, exploding transformers and leading to brownouts and blackouts. Recently, heat-driven storms pounded the East Coast, knocking out power to 3 million homes and businesses.
Elsewhere, more than half the population in India adding up to some 600 million, faced blackouts for two days in succession as the northern and eastern power grids in the country collapsed. Major emerging economies like South Africa too are experiencing periodic power outages. A key question that crops up is, can IT help tackle this vexed problem? Or more specifically, can cloud save the day for the power sector?
Currently, most utilities are hamstrung by the limited amount of information and data that flow back to their control centers from various points and components in a power grid. This slows down the process of getting a grid back up and running after a collapse and prevents them from anticipating a collapse to take corrective action.
A smart grid utilizes smart meters, wireless communication technology and software systems to allow utilities to manage grid better and make course corrections to avoid a collapse, or in the event of an outage, to reroute power and get the grid back up and running sooner. Utilities can, for example, anticipate the coming surge in power demand and get more generators running much before the grid gets to a breaking point.
Such a grid and smart meters also allow consumers to be billed dynamically, with higher rates charged for power used during periods of peak demand. Studies have shown that such billing can actually push consumers to cut back on power use during peak hours, reducing the strain on the grid.
But putting the physical building blocks in place is only a part of the solution. Utilities will need a robust system to collect and make sense of the data continuously flowing from the various smart components to make a smart grid functional.
That is not an easy task. For example, utilities will need to access high computing power for collecting and using the data from the smart meters for billing -- but for short amounts of time. This is where cloud computing -- which allows computing resources to be created on demand -- can play a role. Cloud storage and cloud-run applications can give utilities access to the required computing power when demand is high, and the pay-per-use model can keep costs down. Further, the cloud will allow computing resources to be allocated dynamically.
There is, of course, another much-overlooked aspect. Creating a smart power grid is a lot like orchestrating data in a cloud-computing infrastructure. A coming together of the tech and engineering titans could result in the building of a just-in-time energy grid that can solve the problems faced by today's grids.