Wednesday night at Johns Hopkins University I attended a talk entitled “The ‘Smarter’ Grid: Concepts, Standards and Recent Developments.” Smart electrical grids are being designed to replace our current “dumb” grid with an infrastructure that is more efficient, more secure and more flexible in all phases, as put by John McDonald, the Director of Technical Strategy & Policy Development at GE, “from turbine to toaster”.
The turbine, or the source of energy, is evolving. Coal plants are ceding market share to wind and solar facilities. Generating renewable power from sources like these serves a great security benefit as geographically distributed wind turbines and solar cells are less prone to catastrophic disruptions like a natural disaster or terrorist attack. However, their energy generation is variable. When skies go dark or the wind dies down, the power stops. The electrical grid of 20 years ago never had to worry about these types of disruptions, but smart grids can do something called “load shifting” where energy is stored during periods of high production and released in times of low production to smooth out fluctuations.
The smart grid system is designed to do much more that that, though. At its heart is a philosophy of “intelligence.” The thought is that the more information our electricity infrastructure produces and the more control we give it to tweak inputs and outputs at all stages, the more effective the entire network will be. This intelligence is created through “enterprise data”, knowledge about the entire energy enterprise from accurate geographical maps of energy usage and bandwidth data to its relationship to an energy user’s personal computer.
Tomorrow, I will write about how the smart grid can be installed at the user-end and how this change can provide significant consumer savings.