December 15, 2023 / By Dan Gent

Quantum potential in the electricity industry

Our complex linear electricity system has non-linear problems. Weather, asset management, labour, supply and demand and more, can be difficult to predict and require complex decision-making to resolve. Electricity Canada believes quantum computing can help resolve these non-linear challenges.

What is a quantum a computer?

The word “quantum” means very small or the smallest measurement of something. However, quantum computing does not mean small computers! Quantum computers can effectively work on the smallest components in physics, atoms, electrons, protons, neutrons, molecules in various modelling scenarios, building complex algorithms to understand the movement and interaction of particles at the quantum level. These computers can provide results 100x faster than traditional computers.

Computers use “bits”, quantum computers use “quantum bits” or “qubits”. One computer bit represents the value of 1 or 0 at one time and a qubit can represent multiple values at one time. This multidimensional state is called superposition. As qubits link and become ‘entangled’ with each other, they form a system. By having more qubits entangled, quantum computers can then provide quantum level insights at an exponential rate.

Like the average laptop, quantum computers produce heat, and to keep them functioning at optimal levels, the technology must be cooled. In this case, to levels that are near absolute zero. Although a quantum computer could be the size of a bread box, the cooling system could be the size of a Tesla and requires a great deal of power.

Quantum computing meets the grid

Use of quantum computing in the electricity industry and for the power grid has been under consideration for years. With the industry’s physical assets spread out over the country with millions of connections to customer meters, renewable generation, battery storage and an increasing number of electric vehicles, quantum computing has the potential provide faster and smarter insights.

Quantum molecular and atomic analysis lends itself nicely to electricity losses occurring over transmission and distribution lines. Quantum computing could analyze materials or compounds at a molecular level to identify formulas that would optimize the flow of electricity. These new lines would ultimately reduce energy line loss or eliminate it altogether. In a similar analysis, quantum computing could determine the optimal chemical composition to develop batteries with increased capacity and a smaller footprint and longer lifespans.

Increased security means increased reliability

Electric utilities are under constant threat from foreign actors seeking to gain access to critical systems. In 2015, a Ukrainian electricity company was hacked, causing an outage for over 200,000 customers. Quantum computing could provide utilities the ability to fight cyber security threats at a much more robust level with real-time counterintelligence on potential system intrusion, leading to a more resilient and reliable grid.

August 2023 is the 20-year anniversary of the 2003 North American blackout that affected over 55 million people. Looking back at the cascading failures of that event, we can safely say that quantum computing could have identified the initial failures before it happened ultimately preventing the outage. Quantum computing could have rerouted or changed the line-load preventing the massive power outage.

Quantum computing could run thousands of scenarios with the electric load, weather (wind, rain, changing temperature), extreme events, and asset management to to prevent outages from happening.

In the coming years, due to the nature of the grid and the electrical system, companies are in a good position to truly capitalize on the benefits on quantum computing.

It’s time for electricity companies to future proof the grid and integrate quantum computing into their systems.