Smart Grid

Smart grids are a suite of technologies that facilitate information flow so that the utility can deliver and manage electricity more economically and efficiently.


Smart grid technology generally includes any remote sensor on the electricity grid that communicates information and allows the utility to take action based on that information. This suite of technologies integrates the behaviour and actions of all connected electrical supplies and loads through dispersed communication capabilities to deliver sustainable, economic, and secure power supplies.

Major objectives of the smart grid are:

  • Improved grid resilience
  • Improved environmental performance, and
  • Improved asset operational efficiencies.

These three objectives are carried out by the five capabilities of a smart grid not found in a traditional electrical grid. These capabilities are:

  1. Demand response
  2. Facilitation of distributed generation
  3. Facilitation of electric vehicles (distributed storage)
  4. Optimization of asset use, and
  5. Problem detection and mitigation.

Case Study

The electrical grid of 2005 was very similar to the electrical grid of 1955. Electricity flowed along wires from central generation plants to the customer. However, after 2005 and the first major roll out of smart meters in Canada[1], the grid began to incorporate new technology. The key part of ‘smart’ in ‘smart grid’, is that an asset communicates with the utility and the utility has the means to use that data to make decisions, sometimes with human intervention or algorithmically using software, on how the grid should best operate given its current state, as reported by the asset. In this way, electricity and information flow in tandem.

The smart grid of today is more complicated than its traditional counterpart; there are more things that are connected to the grid and it is easier and cheaper to monitor more of the grid in real time. Smart meters are the usual technology that people interact with, but automatic reclosers on circuits allow for the safe toggling of electrical current by the utility, distributed generation can come online, or offline, if the economic conditions for its use are met, behind the meter assets like energy storage can be called upon by the grid operator if there is a local demand exceeding economic supply etc.

There is no one, ‘smart grid’. The smart grid is the idea that electricity and information symbiotically flow across the grid and all the technologies that fall within that framework can be considered the smart grid.

The smart grid is not different than the previous grid in that the same actors contribute. Utilities manage the grid, technology providers develop new products based on customer needs (both for industry and consumer), standards bodies like the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) work with industry and technology providers to ensure that new technologies are safe, and governments provide support for innovation and allow or disallow technology based on certain policy objectives.

The smart grid while not new, is ever-evolving where new technologies and new behaviours (from both customer and utility) are constantly emerging.


Key Messages

  • Smart grid technology generally includes any remote sensor on the electricity grid that communicates information and allows the utility to take action based on that information.
  • Developing and increasing the capabilities of the smart grid will improve the health and efficiency of the electrical grid.
  • Through the use of smart grid technology and data, utilities are becoming more efficient at supplying electricity and storing it, managing costs and peak demand, integrating large scale renewable and customer-generated power to the grid, understanding how jurisdictions work together.
  • Using smart grid to manage Distributed Energy Resources contributes to reducing System Average Interruption Duration Index (SAIDI) and System Average Interruption Frequency Index (SAIFI) numbers and can be optimized according to grid constraints.