The term ‘smart grid’ is used extensively today, even though there are diverse opinions on what it means. Common definitions focus on communications, sensing and control, with less clarity regarding the ‘smart’ actions the technology could enable. All power networks include sensing and control technology to some extent, and the key questions should not be about what constitutes a ‘smart grid’, but what challenges our transmission and distribution industry are facing, and how modern digital technology can be used to help in addressing these challenges. In this paper we first examine the influences on transmission and distribution companies in the electricity sector that have led to, and are leading to imperatives for change. Secondly we look at what innovative technologies and ideas are being employed in New Zealand’s power transmission and distribution systems, and which are likely to be used in the future in response to the imperatives for change. Next we briefly comment on comparisons between electricity and telecommunications (which has undergone radical change in the last 20-30 years). The paper concludes with a summary of new developments, a discussion of the term ‘smart grid’ in the New Zealand context, and areas where New Zealand might improve its performance in the utilization of new technology.
The main conclusion from the paper is that ‘smart grid’ is a very broad term that refers to almost any number of new technologies in the grid, some that have been in existence for many years, and others that are being implemented now. There is certainly scope for application of new technology in distribution and transmission networks that has arisen from advances in semiconductor technology and computing. Although the term ‘smart grid’ is useful in generally referring to the modernization of the grid and a variety of new technologies being used in it, it is not so useful when referring to a specific technology or technique.