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New technology can improve electric power system efficiency and reliability - Today in Energy - U.S.
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The term "smart grid" covers a range of devices and systems that leverage recent advances in digital technology and communications to improve the efficiency, performance, and reliability of the existing electric power system infrastructure.
A mismatch between supply and demand or a breakdown in synchronization can put stress on the grid. Comparing data between points on an electric system is a good way to reveal stress on the system and home in on the source of the problem. Developing methods for accumulating, analyzing, and distributing vast amounts of data is a challenge throughout the range of smart grid technologies. In time, applications for PMUs may include integrating intermittent renewable generators and automating controls for transmission system and demand response equipment, as well as developing increasingly-efficient use of electric power system infrastructure. Offline, synchrophasor data are already being used to improve electric system models used in real-time operations and planning, as well as for disturbance analysis and forensic investigation. For more information on PMUs and the use of synchrophasor data, see the North American SynchroPhasor Initiative website and the recent report from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (2010).

In the United States, at this time, there was also interest in reform of units and standards. In the United States and Canada, there are four large electric systems, called interconnections, that underpin the provision of electricity service to all consumers. PMUs monitor the characteristics of electricity flowing through a particular location, for instance, at the point where a generator connects to the bulk power system, or at a substation. All PMUs across an interconnection are kept in precise time synchronization using GPS, leading to the term "synchrophasor data" (in this context, the term "phasor" comes from the mathematical representation of the measurement). For example, the investigation into the causes of the 2003 Northeast Blackout required many person-years of labor, but the investigation of the 2011 blackout in the Southwest is proceeding much more quickly, in large part due to the availability of PMU data. They do not alter the physical truth of the equation, since they are physically equal to 1, and are dimensionless.
This synchronization provides the capability to easily compare system data among geographically dispersed units, creating wide-area visibility across large power systems, which was not previously possible using older technology.

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