Automation provider, System Devices, explain how organisations can best manage energy use in order to make the smart grid work for them.

Is your company’s electrical energy usage important to you? Whether still feeling the results of the recession or looking forward to competing as the global marketplace moves ahead, businesses are looking for ways to cut costs and increase revenues.

Trends in energy show utility companies raising rates and introducing more tiered rate structures that penalise high energy consumers. And with all the talk about carbon footprints and cap and trade, energy becomes an important place to look for both savings and revenues.

Whether you’re wondering how the ‘smart grid’ will impact your business, or whether you’ve simply been tasked with improving the energy efficiency of your company, there are good reasons for finding out more about how you use electrical energy.

The smart grid

Thus far, a standard definition of the smart grid has proved elusive, but in essence the smart grid vision is for a reworked infrastructure that embeds digital intelligence into the entire process of producing, distributing, pricing and consuming electricity.

In practice that means everything on the grid, from power plants to individual appliances, can be seen and controlled in real time, most of it automatically; energy prices reflect what it costs to produce electricity in real time; all methods of generation and storage can be incorporated into the grid; and the system is secure, efficient, and environmentally sound.

Because the smart grid allows two way, digital communication between power provider and power user, electricity can be managed in real time, automatically. Who controls this management may be an issue (at least initially), but ideally both the user and the provider are involved at different levels.

Utilities know exactly how much electricity is being produced and used on the grid and where it’s being produced and used. In this way they can see potential problems and shift supply to areas of higher demand. This more efficient operation reduces brownouts and blackouts and provides better quality electrical energy.

Some energy users, especially residential customers, are happy to let smart appliances and smart meters determine the most efficient way to use energy. Commercial and industrial users may want to manage at least part of it themselves, to see the details of their energy usage and control their usage in the most effective way for their business.

In the smart grid, real time production and usage data benefits both providers and users. But this vision of two way communication and automated energy management demands open standards, because data from many sources must be aggregated, integrated, and presented visually to an assortment of users in varied formats. The standard expected to ensure this interoperability of all smart grid systems is IEC 61850.

An automation engineer doesn’t need to wait for the smart grid, ‘smart’ machines, or newer technology. Your company can use the tools available today to manage energy use. And you can also take advantage of programs from utility companies and energy aggregators to reduce costs or even gain a source of revenue.

Help is at hand

The broad communications capabilities in today’s PACs and I/O mean that there are products that will help you acquire energy data and control usage. You may be able to simply tap into your current infrastructure to get the data you need for energy management.

Automation vendor Opto 22, for example, offers a scalable system with distributed intelligence, based on Ethernet and open communication standards. If you already use its SNAP PAC system, you can add energy management capabilities by adding an OptoEMU Sensor energy monitoring unit, or by adding a few I/O modules such as the SNAPAIPM-3, which monitors 3-phase power.

Minor changes to your PAC Control strategy, which runs in the programmable automation controller, would incorporate energy data into the control program.

These products are also useful if you prefer to keep energy management separate from your regular automation system.

A small system can acquire all energy data and control individual devices or equipment (pumps, motors, or compressors, for example) that are not part of the larger automation system. Built on open communication standards, this small system can also provide input to the main automation system.

Starting now to manage your company’s energy usage and costs will give your business a competitive edge today and for the future.

Here are some easy ways to begin:

• Begin thinking about energy as a raw material and even as a source of revenue.

• Use automation technology and products available now to acquire the data you need.

• Use readily available products based on open communication standards to send this data to company computer networks, online software services, and operator interfaces.

• Set up automated or operator driven control for devices and processes to use energy in the most efficient way for your business.

• Take advantage of rebate and curtailment programs offered by your utility company or other energy provider to acquire new equipment and even produce a new revenue stream.