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Black & Veatch Pioneers Canada’s First Award-Winning Community-Wide Smart Grid

by Anna

Black & Veatch, a global leader in infrastructure solutions, has successfully developed Canada’s first fully operational community-wide smart grid, utilizing geospatial technology to bolster grid resilience and reduce carbon emissions. This innovative project, implemented in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, demonstrates the potential of smart grids in transforming energy distribution and management.

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As renewable energy sources become increasingly integrated into the power grid to meet ambitious clean energy goals, the infrastructure faces significant pressure. The rapid expansion of the electric vehicle (EV) market, the offshore movement of wind power, and the advancement of solar panel technology are all contributing to the need for a more resilient and efficient grid.

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The smart grid system developed by Black & Veatch incorporates geospatial technology, predictive capabilities, and comprehensive data integration to enhance grid safety and reliability. This system not only improves operational efficiency but also contributes to a reduction of 2,804 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually.

Tackling Infrastructure Challenges and Data Demands

The aging power grid, much of which was constructed in the mid-20th century, faces numerous challenges. With transmission lines typically having a lifespan of around 50 years, the need for upgrades, maintenance, and efficient repairs is critical. For instance, the California Independent System Operator has recommended an investment of $9.6 billion in 46 transmission line projects to support renewable energy loads. However, this investment does not cover the extensive replacement and maintenance required for aging infrastructure components like transmission lines and circuit breakers.

Renewable energy demand and stringent carbon emissions goals further complicate the situation. Researchers at Princeton University have estimated that 80% of the emissions reductions from the Inflation Reduction Act could be negated without significant transmission expansion and grid updates. Additionally, data centers and artificial intelligence are driving substantial power demands, with the International Energy Agency projecting that by 2026, data centers will consume 6% of the total electricity in the United States.

Smart Grids and Geospatial Technology

Installing smart grids is crucial to addressing these infrastructure challenges and meeting the growing power demands. Black & Veatch’s smart grid in Sault Ste. Marie supports 35,000 customers, enhancing grid resilience, reducing costs for consumers, and significantly lowering carbon emissions.

The smart grid employs geospatial technology and data integration to create a comprehensive program management and execution tool suite. This unified platform monitors a project’s design and performance over time, enhancing planning and forecasting with advanced dimensional design and mapping. The integration of data and analytics improves scheduling, decision-making, and issue resolution efficiency.

One of the critical benefits of smart grid technology is its ability to minimize human error in maintenance and monitoring. Optical sensors connected to the smart grid provide real-time monitoring and predictive data to prevent failures. These sensors can detect system stress, monitor temperatures, identify deformations in components, and protect electrical equipment in substations. By enabling preventative maintenance, the smart grid moves away from reactive repairs, ensuring more reliable and efficient grid operation.

Future Prospects

Black & Veatch’s smart grid system is a sophisticated integration of four domains, utilizing smart applications and data analytics across all components. This technology has already proven its value, earning the Electricity Distribution Association’s Innovation Excellence Award for its implementation with PUC Distribution Inc., the power utility in Sault Ste. Marie.

As more companies and researchers adopt Black & Veatch’s geospatial technology, the benefits become increasingly apparent. The technology can reduce outage duration, improve asset update efficiency, and streamline repairs, enhancing predictive maintenance strategies. Given that over 90% of utility enterprises have a location context central to their operations, incorporating geospatial data into smart grid technology will be crucial for managing complex information rapidly and accurately.

Black & Veatch’s smart grid initiative in Canada marks the beginning of a broader movement towards smarter, more resilient utility grids. This pioneering effort is expected to pave the way for future advancements, making smart technology an integral part of the energy landscape.

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