When the media or energy providers reference “the grid” they are referring to the infrastructure that delivers electricity from power plants to a home or business, made up of a network of transmission lines, transformers, substations, etc. According to SmartGrid.gov, our electric grid consists of more than 9,200 generating power plants with more than 1 million megawatts of generating capacity connected to more than 300,000 miles of transmission lines.
Our electric grid was built in the 1890’s and although we have improved upon its’ technology through time – like the VCR and CD player – it will eventually need to be updated / replaced. The growing demand for power, increasing environmental regulation, and focus on renewable energy resources is creating a strain that building additional power plants can no longer support.
The “Smart Grid” is a new and improved power grid that uses advanced technology for two-way interaction between utilities and its customers. The Smart Grids’ capabilities allow for immediate digital responses to the ever-increasing electric demand, tighter security, the integration of more renewable power sources, and real-time energy usage data to customers.
Some examples of the Smart Grid’s positive attributes:
- In the event of an emergency that causes power failure, the Smart Grid would allow for automatic rerouting of energy (to say, emergency services first) and minimize widespread outages and their effects.
- The Smart Grid positively impacts the environment and reduces the effects of climate change. The U.S. Department of Energy estimated that if our current power grid was merely 5% more efficient, our energy savings would equal the emissions from 53 million cars.
- The Smart Grid allows consumers to save money through two-way communication between the utility and the customer. This allows for tailored rate design as utilities would be able to bill customers by their individual usage patterns.
- The Smart Grid puts a customer’s real-time utility usage data in their hands, rather than waiting for their billing statement. A smarter grid will allow customers to conveniently interact with appliances such as their home or business’ thermostats, A/C, heater, lights, etc. which will lead to significant cost savings through monitoring and management.
Although our current power grid has proved reliable for over a century – the transition to the Smart Grid will take us into a new era of reliability, availability, and efficiency which will contribute to our overall economic and environmental health.