What's the Buzz on Smart Grids?
h e existing elec trici ty infrastructure in the Un ited States is outda te d and in efficient. Energy com pa nies provide power to con su mers, but the grid pro vides no infor m ation abo ut ho w th e con sumers are usin g th at energy, makin g it difficult to develop m ore efficie nt approache s to distribution . Also, the current elec tric ity grid offers few ways to h andle power provided by alte rnative energy sources, wh ich are critical com po nents of mo st efforts to go "gre en ." Enter th e smart grid. A smart grid deliv ers electric ity fro m supplie rs to cons umers using digital technology to save ene rgy, reduce costs, and ...view middle of the document...
Man agin g th e infor ma tion flowin g in th ese smart grids requires technology: n etworks an d switch es for power m an agement; se nsor and m onitoring devices to track energy usage and distribution trends; systems to provide energy suppliers an d cons umers with us age data; com m unic ations systems to relay data along the entire ene rgy supply syste m; and systems linked to pro grammable applia nces to run them when energy is least costly .
If consum ers h ad in-h ome displays sh owing h ow much energy they ar e con sum ing at any m om ent and the price of th at energy, th ey are m ore likely to curb their consum ption to cut costs. Home th ermostats an d applian ces could adju st on their own automatically, dep endin g on th e cost of power, and eve n ob tain th at power from nontraditional sources, su ch as a n eighbor's roo ftop solar pan el. In stead of power flowing from a sm all number of power plants, the smart grid will make it possibl e to h ave a dist ributed ene rgy system. Elec tricity will flow from homes and busin es ses into th e grid, and th ey will us e power from local and faraway sources. Besides in creasing energy efficien cy, converting to smart grids along with other relat ed ene rgy initiatives could create up to 370,000 jobs. That 's why pion eering smart grid proj ects su ch as SmartGridCity in Bould er, Colora do, are att racting atte ntion . SmartGridCity repres ents a collabo ration by Xcel Energy In c. an d residents of Boulder to test th e viability of smart grids on a sma lle r scale. Participa nts can check th eir power consu m ption lev els an d costs onli ne, and will soon b e able to program home appliances over the Web. Cus tomers access th is in formation an d se t goals and guide lines for their h om e's en ergy usage through a Web portal. They also have th e option of allowing Xcel to remotely adj us t th eir thermostats during periods of high demand. SmartGridCity is also atte m pting to turn h omes into "m iniature power plants" using solar-powered battery pa cks th at "TiVo electric ity," or stash it away to use at a lat er tim e. This serves as b ackup power for h om es using the packs, but Xcel can also tap in to th at pow er during times of peak energy con sum ption to lessen the overall energy load . Xcel will b e able to remotely adjus t th ermostat s and water h eat ers an d will h ave much better info rmation ab out the power cons um ption of th eir cons ume rs . Bud Pet erson, ch an cellor of th e Un ivers ity of Colorad o at Boulder, and hi s wife Val h ave worked with Xcel to turn their home into the prototyp e residence for the SmartGridCity project. Their h ouse was supplied with a six-kilowa tt photovoltaic system on two roofs, four thermostat s.contro lle d via the Web, a plug-in hybrid electric veh icle (PHEV) Ford Escape, and other high-t ech , smart grid-com pa tible features . Xcel em ployees ar e able to m onitor peri ods
of hi gh power cons um...