May 30 2011

The Smart Grid

Published by under Student blog entries

The “Smart Grid” is a system supported by many corporations like General Electric and government agencies like the Department of Energy as the future of electricity in the United States.  The current method of a one-way transfer of electricity from the utility to the household is over a century old and makes it difficult for renewable energy technologies such as wind and solar power on a local level to participate in the power grid.  Also, when power lines or transformers fail, power outages in homes occur until these devices are fixed, leaving families without power after intense weather or accidents.

The Smart Grid is described as a way to revolutionize the power grid by establishing two lines of communication between power consumers and the utility that allows for the exchange of electricity and data to make the power grid more efficient, reliable, and sustainable.  It would allow for power companies to re-route lines of power exchange in the event of a power failure as well as better manage which power plants need to be online and which can be substituted with a renewable energy source.  The Smart Grid would provide users with a Smart Meter which shows the amount of electricity being used as well as the price of the flow, and helps households determine when to run their appliances at the lowest cost and lowest stress on the grid.  General Electric describes this aspect of the Smart Grid as the system being “thrifty,” but in reality it would require consumers to alter their habits such as running their dishwasher at 8:00 PM when power demand is high to 3:00 AM when demand is lower.

This kind of lifestyle change may spark resistance in consumers who do not want to change how they wash their clothes or dishes.  Also, none off the available literature on the Smart Grid published by the Department of Energy describes how the grid would compensate for the variability of renewable technologies such as wind and solar.  The Smart Grid is supposed to be able to transport renewable energy long distances, and to provide the infrastructure necessary for families to own and charge electric cars.  It is unclear how actively the Department of Energy is planning on investing in this technology, which is still in the research stage.  General Electric has several pilot projects going in cities like Austin, Texas and Maui, Hawaii, and is involved in the DOE’s investigations.


The Smart Grid with result in greater renewable energy use, reduced carbon emissions, and smarter electricity use at home.

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “The Smart Grid”

  1.   emilyon 31 May 2011 at 2:18 pm

    Hi Amberli!
    First of all, the Smart Grid sounds like a perfect compliment to alternative energies. It is extremely efficient, sustainable, and reliable. The Smart Grid has the potential to save homeowners (and potentially business owners) a large amount of money if they choose to observe the Meter and learn how to conserve energy.
    However, after just learning about the opposition to wind turbines (both onshore and offshore), opposition to the Smart Grid is sadly predictable. Many people are not willing to change their ways in order to be more sustainable and save energy. Although some of the changes may be a hassle, they are definitely worth it.
    I also saw another article on the negatives of the Smart Grid while looking for an article to review in the NY Times discussing the high costs of the grid. Also in the article they discuss the cost of plug-in vehicles, which will feed power back in from the batteries to meet sudden changes in electricity demand. Finally, the article states that we will need consumer participation to make the Smart Grid work, which may be difficult.

  2.   rachelon 02 Jun 2011 at 3:09 am

    I agree Amberli that the smart grid is a good direction in which our nation should head. As much power as we’re hoping to generate with renewable energy technologies, we have too great an energy need right now to be supplied solely by renewable sources. However, we cannot think that even generating 80% of our energy from renewable sources is enough. We need to eventually become completely independent from fossil fuels in order to have a constant supply of energy without worsening global warming. Therefore, rather than trying to search for more and more efficient renewable energy sources (which tend to have greater environmental impacts the more energy efficient they become – take tidal barrage for example) we need to first lower our energy consumption. This is especially critical as the population continues to grow and more nations demand to become connected to the energy grid. Rather than telling other nations they cannot consume the same amount of energy that we consume, we need to set an example by lessening our energy needs. This does not mean giving up the luxury that we enjoy, and going back to using candles to light our homes. Rather, reducing our energy needs can be achieved through becoming more energy efficient and a great way of doing this is through the smart grid.
    Thomas L. Friedman wrote in “Hot, Flat, and Crowded” that he hopes for houses that can communicate with the grid. That way the house will know when the energy demand is low and can automatically turn on the dish washer, washing machine, ect. In this way, people do not have to change their habits. In fact, it is less work for them because the house will automatically run machines. They would not have to wake up at 3:00AM to turn on the dish washer. Additionally, by only using power when there is a great enough supply, needing large machines to store energy from energy generators such as wind that do not produce energy at a constant rate will be less necessary. If there is an suddenly an abundance of energy, more houses will make use of that energy. If there is a temporary lack off energy, houses will shut off unnecessary energy consumers.
    Another way in which the smart grid will hopefully decrease energy consumption is by making people aware of how much energy they are consuming. They will have to monitor their energy consumption and as a result may cut back on wasteful practices they were not aware of before.
    Germany is currently leading the world in energy efficiency and renewable energy. They have cut their carbon emissions by 23% since 1990 and plan to start implementing the smart grid system, putting the power of energy into the hands of consumers, something the US has been very reluctant to do. I hope the US will learn that the future is no longer in coal and oil. Yes, they helped us build our nation, but they can longer sustain it. Renewable energy and energy efficiency are what will decide which nation will be on top in the coming years. If the US doesn’t catch on soon, we will fall behind.

    Hot, Flat, and Crowded by Thomas L. Friedman