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2022 Electrical Grid Tech Trends: Drones, AI, and More

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Alex Cwalinski's picture
Consultant CWA Utility Consulting

Alex Cwalinski is a consultant for the utility industry. He is currently working to expand the use of power line safety practices and equipment. Through state-of-the-art technologies, Cwalinski...

  • Member since 2021
  • 2 items added with 3,792 views
  • Nov 19, 2021

Power lines across the American landscape have changed very little in appearance. But the reality is the technology used to manage our electrical grid is accelerating faster than it ever has. Power line monitoring networks, drones, and artificial intelligence are just scratching the surface.

Here are five groundbreaking tech trends in the utility industry to watch for in 2022.

The Smart Grid Ushers In a New Wave Of Efficiency and Reliability

We are surrounded by “smart,” these days from our TVs and thermostats to our phones and cars. Utilities are quietly among the list of industries that have adopted the internet of things by taking advantage of its potential to control the grid remotely.

In the utility world, a smart grid refers to an electrical grid that uses a variety of cutting-edge technology to monitor, operate, and distribute power to customers. This industry is growing and is expected to escalate at a compound annual growth rate of 17.76%.

Common technology used in a smart grid includes smart meters, which allow for more accurate monitoring of customers’ use. This enables a utility to better match power generation with power consumption to avoid overproduction and waste. Smart meters can also signal power outages in real-time. 

The Edison Foundation estimates that smart meters currently cover more than 75% of U.S. households, after having been introduced nearly a decade ago. 

The smart grid will continue to play a vital role in reducing the costs of generating and delivering electricity. This is important in combating the rising costs of repairing or replacing outdated infrastructure and building more infrastructure as demand increases.

Data and Analytics Provide Intelligence and Insight 

Smart meters currently generate a large volume of real-time data for utilities. The data itself is useless without the ability to analyze it and implement changes autonomously, or without human intervention. This is where artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) come into play. 

For instance, data like consumption patterns can inform utilities when electricity is in highest demand. This allows utilities to increase power generation at the same time each day. Currently, some utilities incentivize customers to use more electricity at non-peak periods while cutting back during peak hours. Spreading out demand like this enables utilities to distribute power reliably.

AI also helps identify weaknesses in the grid so utilities can have advanced warnings when outages might occur, enabling them to make proactive fixes. Additionally, electrical storage from solar and wind farms are using AI to find optimal times to store, generate, and distribute energy as needed.

Advanced Sensor Technology Offers Real-Time Monitoring

State-of-the-art power line monitoring systems are capable of changing the game in power grid safety. Power line monitoring networks are able to provide real-time monitoring of power line conditions. They are able to detect things like line sag, where a pole is leaning at an angle, or if a fallen branch is weighing a power line down. They can also measure wind speed, so utilities can anticipate line damage in advance.

If a power line falls, the system can trigger a warning and automatically notify the grid to stop power. Grid failure detection is especially critical in remote areas or when severe weather is expected, like the ice storm Texas faced earlier this year. 

This system is estimated to detect problems faster than other detection solutions and costs far less. The future cost savings could be astronomical when taking into account forest fires sparked by downed power lines.

Virtual Reality and Drone Technologies Make Jobs Safer

On-the-job training has the potential to be dangerous for many industries. Power line maintenance is certainly one of the most affected as new linemen learn to handle high-voltage equipment. They're often tasked with fixing lines in poorly lit conditions and inclement weather. Much of the training used to take place in the classroom through videos and lectures. However, those options make it challenging to properly equip workers with the confidence that comes from experience in a real situation. 

Today utility workers are partially learning through virtual reality (VR) technology. Facilities like the American Electric Power Transmission Training Center offer realistic and immersive VR training environments that simulate dangerous real-world situations.

Drone technology is another advancement to safety for linemen and other electrical workers. Utilities are using drones to survey power lines, as well as to install equipment like bird diverters and warning flags. This enables utilities to more safely and cheaply add power line markers in remote areas or in places where the terrain is difficult to traverse.

Renewables Provide a Cleaner and Safer Alternative

Wind and solar are increasingly replacing traditional electricity sources like coal, oil, and natural gas. Alternative fuels even help utilities keep a handle on their expenses since, unlike fossil fuels, wind and solar generation don’t have variable costs.

While utilities are investing more capital into generating and transmitting green power, they are also working to make it more available to their customer base. They see it as a key part of their value proposition, especially in areas that have competitive landscapes. Even though green energy may be more costly upfront, consumers increasingly prefer it as a way to lower their carbon footprint and to align their lifestyle with their values. Roughly half of U.S customers are currently able to purchase renewable electricity directly from their regular power supplier, according to the Department of Energy. Consumers without that capability can purchase renewable energy certificates (RECs) from outside suppliers.

Fortunately, both the world of renewable energy and the world of utilities share a focus on innovation and a desire for progress. Working together, these industries are growing in revolutionary ways to address current power grid challenges while guiding us into an innovative future.


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Thank Alex for the Post!
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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Nov 19, 2021

Drone technology is another advancement to safety for linemen and other electrical workers. Utilities are using drones to survey power lines, as well as to install equipment like bird diverters and warning flags. This enables utilities to more safely and cheaply add power line markers in remote areas or in places where the terrain is difficult to traverse.

One concern I've heard on this-- is this making the job safer for linemen, or is it replacing their job and thus a threat to the viability of those jobs? How do you see this concern? 

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