The Smart Grid will change the way we use and monitor energy.
When you get home from work tonight you'll likely turn on several lights, adjust your thermostat and turn on music and/or your TV. You also may turn on the oven, start a load of laundry, jump in the shower, and turn on your computer. Now, think about the millions of other customers of your electric utility doing the same things at almost the same time. That demand creates what electric utilities call peak load. To meet that peak demand, utilities have relied on expensive stand-by power plants, which are costly to both build and operate. Instead, what if utilities and consumers could manage and reduce peak demand to make the electric grid run more efficiently – and reliably too? It's coming and it's called the Smart Grid.
"In a traditional grid, supply follows load," says Jesse Berst, founder of SmartGridNews.com. "If a whole bunch of us turn on our TVs at the same time, there's a generator somewhere that ramps up and creates more power to produce that electricity. Sometimes, you literally don't have enough supply. Another way to solve the problem is to reduce the demand. If you could magically dim everyone's lights by 5 percent, you could fix that problem. If you hit a peak demand on a summer day, utilities could raise everyone's thermostat by a degree or two."
Better managing of that peak load requires more communication along the
Smart Grid Timeline
2005 - Energy Policy Act supporting innovative technologies to reduce greenhouse gases.
2007 - Energy Security and Independence Act, to modernize the nation’s grid.
2010 - The federal government invests about $4.5 billion, along with $3.5 billion in matching funds from states and utilities, as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for smart grid technologies, transmission system expansion and upgrades and other investments to enhance electric transmission infrastructure, improve energy efficiency and reliability.
electric grid – a Smart Grid. Just as the Internet enables real-time communication among computers, the goal of the Smart Grid is to enable two-way, real-time communication and monitoring along and among all aspects of the electric grid. The lines of Smart Grid communication include the utility company, the electric generating plants, and the homes the utility company services. Additionally, contact points within the home will also be "on-line," including a Smart Meter, a home energy manager and even "smart" appliances like washers and dryers.
Smart Grid will do more than help manage peak load. "Expect the Smart Grid to spur the kind of transformation that the Internet has already brought to the way we live, work, play and learn," the Department of Energy says in its report Smart Grid: An Introduction.
Work on what will become the Smart Grid began during President George W. Bush's administration. President Obama has made Smart Grid a key component of his energy plan. A Smart Grid won't require using as much standby generation to meet demand. It also will be more reliable, will enable the use of more renewable energy sources, and will offer consumers more control over what they pay for energy, says Katherine Hamilton, president of GridWise Alliance, which was founded in 2003 and represents a broad range of entities on the energy supply chain: utilities, large tech companies, academia and emerging tech companies.
The goal is to achieve many of these objectives by 2030 – although supporters of Smart Grid say the technology and associated products will continue to evolve. (see Sidebar). Some appliances and devices are being tested in pilot programs across the country. Some are already available and in use. Utilities and companies are learning what works best based on customer responses. Not all responses have been positive. In California and Texas, customer dissatisfaction with new Smart Meters led to lawsuits and has prompted slower rollouts, more testing and better consumer education. (see Smart Grid On Trial)