Smart Grid: Changing Our Energy Infrastructure

1047129_transmission_towersThere may come a day when a light switch, house key or wallet all become things of the past. Instead we will become a one device carrying society able to control virtually every aspect of our lives via remote location or from our living room couch. Imagine opening your cell phone and logging on to a real-time graph that lets you know exactly how much energy your home is using. Then imagine adjusting that energy by simply pressing a button on your device and receiving an estimated monthly cost/savings. It is the next generation of power infrastructure, with some of it already here.

Today’s Grid

Today’s electrical infrastructure grid is beginning to look very antiquated compared to the leaps and bounds personal technology has made over the last decade or two. Currently there are approximately 9,000 generating plants and about 300,000 miles of transmission lines according to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). It has changed very little since Edison invented the light bulb and continues to be wasteful and polluting in many ways. It is estimated that 10% of our generated electricity becomes lost during transmission. In addition, many power plants are held in reserve yet required to continually run (and pollute) while only being used to generate power a few dozen times per year.

The Smart Grid

Rather than continue the one-way line from power generators to consumers, the smart grid proposes making it a two-way path. Whether it is computer intelligence to keep checks and balances on otherwise wasted energy to selling energy back to the electric companies to offset a monthly bill and sometimes even make a profit at it. Below is an example of what a day-in-the-life of a smart grid may be like:

  • Roof solar panels assess the weather determining the amount of energy they will need. It then ‘talks’ to the dishwasher allowing it to turn on as the sun shines and pause when there are clouds.
  • On your way to work you realize you need to shut the hot water heater as no one will be home to use it and it will waste energy. At the next red light you open your device, press a button and the heater is paused.
  • Throughout the day, if your solar panels become filled with adequate energy they automatically sell the remainder back to the electric company for a premium.
  • Grid managers determine peak usage and adjust it accordingly by controlling home output to reduce fossil fuel waste.
  • Your plugged in-car as well as your adjoined appliances automatically give and take energy from one another according to usage and availability.

Over the next twenty-five years, a slow implementation of a smart grid re-structuring can take place. Plans are already under way as cities and towns are predicting zero carbon emissions by then. Unfortunately there are those that feel we should simply shore-up our current grid by replacing old technology with virtually the same technology. Hopefully, the smart grid will win and the environment will benefit exponentially.

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