Here’s how to integrate a building into the smart grid

Smart grids will help support the growing demand for power throughout the country, but currently, most buildings aren’t ready to join these grids. Emily Newton explains how to integrate existing structures into the growing smart grid and take a step into the future of energy.
Here’s how to integrate a building into the smart grid
While the current incarnation of the power grid has served the country well for decades, it is collectively reaching the point where it cannot support the increased demand. Efforts to privatize sections of the grid have proved to be a spectacular failure, especially considering the massive blackout in Texas during 2020, which claimed the lives of more than 150 people. 

Smart grids will help support the growing demand for power throughout the country, but currently, most buildings aren’t ready to join these grids. This may be due to a reluctance to spend money changing to a new system or fear of the unknown. What will it take to integrate existing structures into the growing smart grid and take a step into the future of energy?

From Macro to Microgrids
Most casual observers are familiar with the macrogrids that power the majority of the country. They enable companies to transport energy to massive numbers of people, but there is always the risk of a cascade failure that could potentially knock out the entire network. Thankfully, this isn’t a considerable threat in large urban centers. However, in smaller, more remote areas, where whole communities draw their power from a single main transmission line, a broken wire can knock out power for days or weeks while they wait for repairs. 

In these scenarios, transitioning to microgrids is becoming more popular. These systems draw from the primary macrogrid under normal circumstances. They have enough backup systems in an emergency — which can range from battery packs to green energy solutions like solar and wind — to keep things running until utility crews can restore their connection to the primary grid. 

These microgrids use AI to determine how and where to distribute limited power resources until a connection is restored. Artificial intelligence and automation will play an enormous role in adopting microgrids and in intelligent grid integration moving forward. 

Adopt Automation Early
Smart technology and automation for commercial structures are growing, but it is still in relative infancy.  Automated systems will be necessary to integrate existing buildings into smart grids. At the very least, facilities will need equipment designed for advanced energy system control and a network that can respond in real-time to new information received from the grid. 

Commercial and residential buildings account for 40% of U.S. energy consumption every year. The adoption of automated systems that allow these structures to sync to smart grids when they become available will help reduce energy consumption and improve the overall carbon footprint of the industry as a whole. 

Be Prepared to Invest
While construction companies are building new structures every year, most existing homes and businesses aren’t ready to integrate into a smart grid. Getting them ready will require a significant investment in most cases. Everything from light fixtures to power outlets to thermostats will need to be upgraded, so they’re prepared to make the most of the grid technology when it becomes available. 

On average, it costs about $7 per square foot to upgrade existing structures with BAS, meaning building and business owners could potentially pay upwards of $250,000 for a 100,000-square-foot building. This will likely drop as the technology becomes more widespread and accessible. Solar technology did something similar, coming into the market high and dropping an astonishing 89% in the last decade. 

AI Continues to Grow
Artificial intelligence (AI) is another relatively new technology and just beginning to find its place in the world. Machine learning and AI programs could be incredibly valuable for stabilizing both large and small power grids and assisting with building management and automation. 

An AI system could fix power grid problems in real-time, as long as they don’t need on-site repairs such as a downed power line or severed mainline. In theory, these systems could repair anything that doesn’t require the skills of a human utility worker. This could make it easier to manage growing demand and could potentially prevent devastating blackouts. 

Reap the Benefits
Building automation and other preparations for smart grid integration have several benefits. Structures will require less energy overall because they use what they consume more effectively. This will reduce utility costs and the building’s carbon footprint. Thanks to automatic climate control and lighting, increased comfort will minimize occupant complaints and increase overall productivity. 

Building automation systems also help reduce operating costs while improving security. As a bonus, implementing these changes will ensure the structure is ready to integrate into a smart grid when the option becomes available. 

This is a win-win situation for business owners, though adopting BAS might represent a significant initial investment. Adopting building automation early allows them to reap the benefits of these programs and be ready for new grid upgrades when they come down the pipe.

About the author:
Emily Newton is a tech and industrial journalist and the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized Magazine. Subscribe to the Revolutionized newsletter for more content from Emily.

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