Friday, July 9, 2010

What is a smart grid, anyway?

Posted By on Fri, Jul 9, 2010 at 12:42 PM

As technologically advanced as our country is, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense when you realize our power grid is based on 1960s technology. It's not efficient and it's not very smart.

That's why, this month, National Geographic is taking a look at what a 21-century power grid might look like. Here's a snippet:

The grid is wondrous. And yet—in part because we've paid so little attention to it, engineers tell us—it's not the grid we need for the 21st century. It's too old. It's reliable but not reliable enough, especially in the United States, especially for our mushrooming population of finicky digital devices. Blackouts, brownouts, and other power outs cost Americans an estimated $80 billion a year. And at the same time that it needs to become more reliable, the grid needs dramatic upgrading to handle a different kind of power, a greener kind. That means, among other things, more transmission lines to carry wind power and solar power from remote places to big cities.

Most important, the grid must get smarter. The precise definition of "smart" varies from one engineer to the next. The gist is that a smart grid would be more automated and more "self-healing," and so less prone to failure. It would be more tolerant of small-scale, variable power sources such as solar panels and wind turbines, in part because it would even out fluctuations by storing energy—in the batteries of electric cars, according to one speculative vision of the future, or perhaps in giant caverns filled with compressed air.

But the first thing a smart grid will do, if we let it, is turn us into savvier consumers of electricity.

Read the entire article here.

Yesterday, NPR's Fresh Air invited the author of the National Geographic article, Joel Achenbach, to explain what's wrong with our current power grid and why it's not good enough for today's highly charged world. He also explains how a smart grid can help us conserve energy and save money through feedback from the power company. Read or listen to his interview here.

Here's some more 1960s technology for ya. Aren't you glad we upgraded?

The cops got radios. POW! Take that, criminals.

Color television was all the rage! Zowie!

We could make long distance calls and pagers (a.k.a. "Bell Boys") only weighed about five pounds. Outta sight!

Kitchen appliances got a snazzy makeover. Shizam.

Further reading: 13 Energy Saboteurs — The Daily Beast

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