Up until ten years ago, the term “smart grid” was only whispered amongst the upper echelons of leading electrical engineering schools. For those in the know, smart grid technology was a new way of transmitting electricity to consumers, poised to revolutionize electrical technology and alter how we view energy conservation.
But with more and more advances made in smart grid technology recently, and even some cities adopting smart grids for the first time, it no longer remains a set theories and equations scrawled on some notepads. Indeed, this state-of-the-art technology is becoming big news in the green tech industry. And by now, you may have even heard of it.
But what exactly is a smart grid and why is it so important?
To answer that, we must look at how electricity is transmitted now.
Electricity is transmitted around via transmission lines that form a grid pattern or network. It travels along high-voltage lines from the power generator to the city. Once the transmission lines reach the city, they are stepped down in substations to lower voltage levels for home/business use. Presently, these electrical grids are designed as one-way streets from the power station to the home or workplace.
One of the problems associated with this form of transmission is that it leave areas vulnerable to disruptions in electricity (the utility company only knows of a black out after the fact and then must go and fix it) and it does not encourage electricity conservation.
Smart grids alleviate many of the problems associated with traditional power transmission, and offer a few novel additions in the process.
The key is in syncing up special digital electronic chips (smart meters) with “time-of-day tariffs.” Time-of-day tariff are designed to reflect the price differences associated with energy demand during a day and over seasons. During the daytime, electricity demand is often highest because that is when people or businesses are using electronics and appliances. At night-time, energy demand drops substantially. This shift in demand is also correlated with seasonal changes when (for instance) households use air conditioning in the summer to cool down their houses. Therefore, energy prices are highest when demand is high and lowest when demand is low.
The purpose of the smart meters is to communicate with the consumer these price differences, so that he/she may initiate the use of appliances when electricity is cheapest. However, predicting the future shift to smart-grid technology, many appliance manufactures have developed appliances capable of communicating with smart meters so that they may turn on by themselves when prices are lowest. For instance, a dishwasher could be set overnight to automatically turn on when electricity rates are low.
One of the biggest features of smart grid technology is that it incorporates digital communication technology in the transmission of electricity. Consumers can receive more detailed information about energy consumption instantly (rather than at the end of the month) and determine how much electricity each appliance in their household consumes. This will give electricity consumers more control over their energy usage, and allow them to shave off 10-15% from their energy bills just by making smarter energy choices.
Furthermore, with households becoming increasingly interested in alternative energy sources for their homes (such as solar panels), smart grids allow households to provide some of their unused energy back to the grid in exchange for household revenue. This is perfect for those sunny days when people aren’t home – just turn off every electrical appliance and light and sell electricity from your solar panels back to the utility. Plus when a household combines this with the innovative new solar power leasing plans, a household can cut its energy bill drastically.
Smart grid technology does indeed seem ready to revolutionize both electricity transmission and energy consumption. Not only does it reduce our dependence on fossil fuels by encouraging alternative energy, it shows how individual households can save both energy and money through small alterations in their energy consumption.
Image CC licensed by LGEPR: The firs in a range of smart grid-ready appliances from LG