What’s So Smart about the Smart Grid?

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smart grid green project Once upon a time we hunted and gathered our food; we made our fire from rubbing two sticks together; and we pretty much relied on the sun, rain and nature to provide all that we needed to sustain life.  Fast forward to the 21st century and we find that much of our existence—from food production to transportation and housing—is dependent on technology. And most technology relies on oil and electricity.  When any region connected to our national grid goes down, modern life as we know it and all of its “convenience” is disrupted.

Brownouts and blackouts are becoming problematic and more common as more people plug in, especially during “peak” times (mornings and evenings).  Transmission losses can be as much as 80 percent, between the energy generation plant and power reaching our buildings. Our tax dollars pay for these losses with subsidies.

Trillions of American tax dollars have been allocated to upgrade our antiquated, 100 year-old national utility grid but we’ve not yet made substantial progress. There is a solution: the smart grid. The About.com/Energy.com site sums it up best: “Smart grids combine digital computing power, interconnected communications networks, storage technologies, smart meters, and other strategies so power companies can deliver electricity when and where it’s needed, even if they rely on intermittent power sources such as solar and wind.”

Five pilot smart grid projects are underway across the globe, from Queens, NY to Chicago, Illinois, to Tokyo, Japan and beyond. A major catalyst for the smart grid pilot programs is the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The benefits are not only reduced carbon footprint, but also more reliable energy and reduced energy costs.

“The smart grid solution is only beneficial if we upgrade our buildings to high-performance, green building and renewable”

Nonetheless, the smart grid solution is only beneficial if we upgrade our buildings to high-performance, green building and renewable “smart” technologies that save and generate energy.  A Time Magazine article highlights an incubator smart grid project in Austin, Texas that incorporates solar energy homes with smart meters that enable homeowners to track their energy use at a granular level.

The homeowners generate more energy than they use (thus selling energy back to the utility), and they get to enjoy more comfortable home environments. And some of these owners are even plugging in their electric vehicles, realizing even more energy savings on transportation costs.

Forbes article points to studies that show homeowners who receive utility consumption data through smart meters modify their behavior and reduce their utility bills.  Another study conducted by Stanford University points to interesting behavior patterns and changes in consumption.

If you are building or upgrading your home with high-performance measures and renewable technology it’s a “smart” move to invest and install a device that can help you manage and control your systems.  There are many devices available on the market today.

Building owners should research and know what questions to ask, costs, types of technology interfaces (net metering), usability and the smart meter company’s ability to deliver a reliable product and service.

Stay tuned for more on smart technology advancement news!


Want to understand The Smart Grid? Read more about it on Energy.Gov