Smart Wires is a company with a single mission: To reimagine the power grid as we know it. The company has pioneered innovative solutions to improve energy transmission and has seen tremendous success in places like the United Kingdom and Europe while having more limited success in the United States. But as America slowly ramps up transmission improvements, Smart Wires technology can make a huge difference by filling gaps in our transmission capabilities by controlling power flows.
Why do we need additional transmission capability in the United States?
The United States is undergoing an energy renaissance. We are transitioning away from energy sources like coal and natural gas towards sources like wind and solar. But without the transmission capacity to carry generated electricity where it is needed most, clean energy development will fizzle out. Power Grid International explains:
“The lack of capacity on the existing grid is already hindering progress. Currently, there are proposed projects languishing in interconnection queues in practically every state, and other projects already online are hampered, face low or even negative pricing, or are completely curtailed by transmission congestion. This congestion creates constraints in moving electricity from one region to another, and while building new transmission lines is a needed part of the solution, it doesn’t address the problem immediately. Permitting and citing for new lines can take multiple years, but technology does exist that can make an impact right now.” (Emphasis added.)
How can Smart Wires technology fill the gaps in America’s transmission system?
While an overhaul and expansion of America’s transmission capabilities will take significant time (and involve removing government regulatory roadblocks), technology deployment can begin to improve things right now. Smart Wires is leading the way forward in one key technological element: power flow control.
Power flow control may not seem significant, but if Smart Wires implemented its innovative “SmartValve” technology across the nation, efficiency and grid capacity would skyrocket even as regular improvements are made. Gregg Rotenberg, CEO of Smart Wires, explained:
“If you think about how transmission lines work in the United States, you realize our overall utilization is extremely low. Typically, 50 percent of the lines, after contingency, use less than 25 percent of their capacity. The problem is that power flows where it flows. It seeks the path of least resistance.”
SmartValve solves this problem by improving the way power flows through an electrical grid. It maximizes the grid’s transfer capacity by correcting the way power flows through the grid. Instead of letting the electrical current “go with the flow,” SmartValve maximizes the grid’s transfer capacity by pushing and pulling generated electricity to lines with spare capacity. Power flows are balanced, transmission lines are equally used, and transfer capacity increases.
A Smart Wires case study demonstrates how their technology can help connect renewable sources to the grid. The best locations for renewable energy projects are often places with weak transmission capability, like rural communities. SmartValve technology can help unlock capacity in that area that was not previously available, allowing these projects to get connected.
Here’s how SmartValves could help with an example wind project:
“Operators can install Smart Wires technology in less than one year. SmartValves redirect power onto parallel lines and allow up to 50 percent of the wind generation to connect immediately. The utility can then add more SmartValves to the deployment, scaling the solution as wind developers confirm their investments and connect to the network. Renewable developers save tens of millions of dollars that they otherwise would have lost due to interconnection delays.”
SmartValves are easy to install, easy to relocate or scale-up, and are adaptable. Rolling out this innovative technology at projects across the nation could help create a robust solution for the gaps seen in transmission capability. This way, projects can continue to be built and get connected as the slower work of transmission upgrades continues.
While the United States is eventually heading toward a total overhaul of our transmission system, technology can help close the gaps we are currently seeing between energy generation and energy transportation. Innovative companies like Smart Wires are paving the way for private sector fixes to some of America’s most significant energy challenges.
Kelvey Vander Hart is a native Iowan, a member of the American Conservation Coalition, and a communications specialist at Reason Foundation.