What Are Electrical Grids?
Electrical grids are the overall network of electrical power generating units geographically scattered around a specific land area such as cities, counties, states and eventually nations. The generating units involved are classified according to the fuel or source of energy that are used to drive them. Examples of these generating units are nuclear plants, hydro power plants, geothermal, solar or PV (Photo Voltaic) plants, diesel driven generators , natural gas driven turbine generators, steam driven generators just to name a few.
As these generators serve cities that are scattered around a large area, transmission lines are used to interconnect them. These lines travel hundreds of miles to deliver the electricity they produce. Transformers are used to allow electrical voltages to be ‘stepped-up’ for long distance transmissions and ‘stepped-down’ to bring it down to safe and usable voltages. Sub-stations serve the purpose of bringing these voltages down to usable voltages and also for the purpose of power distribution.
Make a long story short electrical grids are a huge network of many critical electrical components that are interconnected and controlled to play a vital role in supplying our daily electrical needs for homes, businesses, facilities etc. If our electrical grid gets a hiccup, whether by natural causes or man-made causes, we could be in great trouble. We cannot function as a nation or even defend this nation if our national grid fails for any length of time.
Our Old Grid Is Falling Apart
The bad news is that our grid is old and it is falling apart. Take a quick search online and you will see that indeed our national electric grid is old and fragile. You might be shocked to find out that indeed they are very old, fragile and susceptible to failure in many places and unprotected from hackers who could bring it down.
Billions of Dollars Required To Fix It
To restore the soundness of our electrical grid, it would require a huge investment from the government and of course from us the taxpayers. The good news is that the fix is doable. The old grid could be made more resilient and robust by creating a network of new Microgrids strategically scattered around the U.S.
Residential Solar With Solar Storage Batteries, The Basic Building Block of Microgrids
Each house that has a solar (PV) system that uses storage batteries and are connected to the main grid (on-grid systems) would play a major role in creating the overall Microgrid network. Each house with an on-grid capability becomes an actual electrical power generating unit capable of generating its own power and supporting its internal loads inside the house PLUS other external loads depending on the total electrical output of the PV system. This is a critical role. Serving, supporting and protecting the basic component of a community, a house. Now this same basic component, a house with a PV system and batteries, would become the basic building block of a Microgrid that will serve, support and protect a certain larger area. Homes that generate electricity through solar (PV) systems, when connected and controlled by a central control system will act as an additional asset that add to the total capacity and capability of the whole microgrid and to the larger grid.
The Microgrids, as they interconnect with other Microgrids become the back up if not the backbone of the main grid.
Control and Protection of These Microgrids, Our Best Offense and Defense
Having smart assets that are not smartly controlled and protected is dangerous. Through the use of computer applications, present day microgrids are indeed very smart. But in order for these assets to become truly useful and make them become part of the effort to survive the threats against our main grid (defense), an overall control and protection system has to be in place. These control and protection of assets may exist locally but I have yet to see a system that will control all assets covering the whole of the United States. Coordinating efforts of recovery from several strategically placed ‘Damage Control’ stations that will cover the whole national grid makes more sense . A good offensive lies in a good defense. By smartly controlling and protecting our grid, we create a base for being able to go on the offensive, if necessary.
Enter Aircraft Carriers
Having served in the Navy and assigned on an aircraft carrier, I witnessed the very brilliant way that engineers designed these war machines. These ships have an ‘overkill’ number of generators and back up generators. These generators are huge and could run on their own or in a split-plant mode. They can run in parallel or in conjunction with other generators. Each generator serves certain sections of the ship. Each can also serve other sections served by other generators. In case of casualty or damage, the generators have a lot of flexibility to be able to make the ship withstand enemy fire and continue to fight simply by keeping most of our equipment running despite potential damage.
Electrical power casualty drills on-board all U.S. military ships are routine. We simulate and hold casualty drills constantly. Should we in the civilian communities do the same? I believe we should.
Our communities and eventually our national electrical grid should be designed with the same ‘fighting’ capability in order to withstand both the natural and man-made causes for electrical power failure.