The basic principles behind electricity grids have remained unchanged for more than a century, but the stresses on the infrastructure are much more intense today.

Ageing equipment, more frequent storms and state-funded cyber attacks on critical infrastructure can affect millions of lives and cost economies billions of dollars. It’s now critical to know what’s happening on the grid and where.

Across Asia, countries are looking to upgrade their infrastructure to smart grids, which gives them access to data on how their infrastructure is performing and spot weaknesses. We look at the impact this has had in countries around the world.

Where are the biggest risks?

Data is helping governments, operators and suppliers assess the risks their infrastructure face. They can track the health of assets in remote areas, sending repair crews before the supply is affected.

They can monitor capacity and load in real-time, and quickly adjust tariffs. This is particularly useful with the rise of distributed grids with people buying and selling their excess energy on a digital marketplace. This would be impossible without information on grid operations.

Electricity grids are built to last decades and many were not built to withstand the more erratic climate behaviour we see today. In Texas, US, for instance, one of the leading causes of outages were dead trees falling on electricity lines. And with the state seeing severe droughts, this was becoming more and more likely.

The state’s utility combined customer reports and environmental analysis to identify high-risk areas and focused its efforts there. This reduced tree-related complaints by 90 percent and outages by 60 percent.

The team used geospatial analysis tools (or GIS) that allow teams to analyse based on locations. GIS brings all the data together and reveals relationships between different structural and electrical elements of the grid. This can help create detailed real-world models of grids that allow countries to dig out patterns and behaviour.

Let’s look at three cutting-edge examples of what’s possible with smart grids.

1. Cut energy consumption

In Japan, the university district of Kashiwa-no-ha has smart grids that can visualise energy consumption and manage supply during disasters and emergencies. It can manage the distribution of electricity between localised sources such as solar panels and larger power stations. The ability to tweak supply on the grid in real-time has allowed the district to cut peak consumption by 26 percent.

2. Empower customers

Dubai is encouraging households and building owners to install solar panels and supply surplus electricity back to the city grid. To give residents a better understanding of how this would benefit them, the city built an app to allow them to calculate savings. While simple on the user front, it uses sophisticated analysis of data from the grid, together with geographical data such as the tilt of solar panels and shadows from nearby buildings.

3. Plan for the future

One utility provider in the US has set out to identify weaknesses and opportunities for energy supply over the next 10 years. It is using predictive data from its grid to start conversations among its stakeholders on what they see on the horizon. It is simulating these possible scenarios and evaluating what needs to be done for infrastructure, economy and policy.

Smart grid experts from Esri will run a free workshop in Kuala Lumpur on 5 September at Asian Utility Week. Register your seat here today. Lunch will be provided.