“Smart grid” is one of the hottest buzzwords in discussions about energy today. The “grid” it’s referring to is the network of lines, transformers and other units that transport electricity from the power generator to your home or business. When you plug something into the wall or turn on your lights, you are likely using energy provided by the grid. The grid began as small disconnected units focused on powering small communities with minimal electric needs. Today, the grid consists of more than 9,200 electric generating units producing more than 1 million megawatts and more than 300,000 miles of transmission lines spanning the entire country.
Because the grid was designed in the 1890s and constantly adapted to accommodate our growing population and energy demands, we have nearly stretched the network to its capacity. To increase performance and efficiency, we need to revamp the grid – make it “smart” – to incorporate the massive amounts of digital information we have about energy demand and use.
Why is a smart grid better?
A smart grid would move the energy industry toward a more reliable, efficient and sustainable system. With new technology, energy providers will be able to better understand their customers’ needs, integrate renewable energy and account for possible system failures. Some of the benefits of a smart grid include:
More efficient electricity transmission: With a smart grid, energy output is adjusted according to the demands of that moment. A business building doesn’t need the same amount of electricity sent to it on a Sunday night as a Monday morning, and a smart grid would account for that and send the electricity where it is needed.
“Self-healing”: Today, a single blackout can create widespread system failures, leading to rolling blackouts, hurting residents and businesses alike. We lose $150 billion per year due to these outages, an expense that can be drastically reduced with a smart grid. A smart grid creates a more resilient system that is better prepared to account for unexpected failures and reroute energy to the affected areas.
Lower operations and management costs for providers: Today’s grid leaves operators with little control over the transmission of energy once it is produced. Smart grid technology allows providers to better measure and control the transmission system, making the grid more reliable and cost-effective, meaning lower costs for consumers.
Increased integration of renewable energy: A smart grid provides the data needed to account for the variable performance of renewable energy sources onto the grid and into use. This way, you won’t be depending on solar energy on a cloudy day.
What can I do?
The best thing an individual can do is be an informed consumer and active participant. First, contact your utility about installing a smart meter. This device connects your home or business to the electric grid, allowing you to examine data on your energy use and make smarter decisions on how to save the most energy and money over time.
If you live in a city with deregulated utilities, find a provider that best matches your needs. If you are interested in sustainable energy, find a provider that supports those industries. Engage your local government, and read more on SmartGrid.gov to learn more.