A Smart Grid for Intelligent Energy Use

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A group of energy's most progressive thinkers are gathered to address the social, economic and environmental impacts of energy and its infrastructure. The concept that prosperity is linked to energy is advanced, along with associated challenges of the provision of energy for all and the environmental impacts of its abundant use.

Discussion of the conservation and management of energy as well as the evolution of the current infrastructure toward a smarter grid includes consumer involvement and the advantages in greater efficiency of a grid supporting two-way communication. Noting that the cost for such a sweeping change is high, viewers are called on to consider the widespread costs of not reaching the goal of sustainable energy.



Deepak Divan: Prosperity, not just for us, but for the whole world, I think is inextricably linked to energy. Without sufficient energy, everyone's standard of living starts to decline. Abundant, sustainable energy is probably the solution to a lot of our problems. With energy, all the other problems can be solved. Without it, everything starts to fall apart.

Narrator: But all these lights and power come at a steep price. The emissions from the production of electricity pollutes the skies and contributes to global warming.

John McDonald: Today, power generation currently accounts for 40% of the U.S.' carbon footprint, so we as a world must find a way to do more with less, and we have to do it quickly.

Clark Gellings: The demand for electricity in the United States and indeed in the world continues to grow. In fact, some projections indicate that there will be a 30% growth in electricity by the year 2030, and so the focus of the question becomes What do we need to do from a technology perspective to meet that growing demand for electricity, and do it in a way that we don't make a greater carbon footprint.

Narrator: The electric grid we use today was designed more than 50 years ago. In order to prevent blackouts and power disruptions, and to ensure reliability and efficiency, the grid needs to be updated. Simply stated, our electric grid needs a complete makeover.

Richard DeBlasio: I'd say the future for the grid is that we need to make it modern, up to date, and smart.

Senator Maria Cantwell: Well our current electricity grid actually could give us more production. We could use the electricity we generate today in a smarter way.

Narrator: Hence the name "Smart Grid." So what exactly is a Smart Grid?

David M. Ratcliffe: I like to boil it down into two elements. One is the deployment of automated metering infrastructure. That is a new meter technology that allows us to communicate with the customer in a two-way fashion. The other part of Smart Grid is a deployment in the transmission and distribution infrastructure of automated devices. It'll allow us to operate our infrastructure and transmission and distribution infrastructure with greater efficiency. We'll know more about outages, we'll do better at restoration, we'll do better at disconnects and reconnects of our customers. It should be a much more efficient system.

Narrator: Modern computer software would allow utility companies to manage and monitor energy use in every home in real time. It would also give consumers more energy control.

David M. Ratcliffe: In a Smart Grid world, the customer will have the opportunity to understand his energy usage, to make decisions about how much he uses, when he uses it, and what he pays for electricity use.

Andrew Tang: For instance, if the price of power exceeds a certain price, then maybe I don't want to charge my plug-in vehicle. Or I don't want to run my dishwasher.

Narrator: In addition to helping society reduce energy use, the Smart Grid will also be better equipped to process alternative, greener fuels. And, if expanded, it could take advantage of energy sources which are currently inaccessible to most of this country. Right now, for example, there's enough wind in the middle of the US to provide a significant portion of the energy we require, but today's grid is not set up to transport it long distance.

Clark Gellings: Resources, particularly renewable resources, are not concentrated near places where there are industrial parks and cities. They happen to be located in the central part of the United States where there's a large wind resource or in the southwest desert. What the Smart Grid will do is let us collect those renewable energy resources and deliver them to cities and homes and urban areas where they're needed.

Narrator: Another improvement will be the use of smart technologies for metering, which will allow consumers to send electricity back to the grid and get paid for it. An example of how the smart grid might work to provide cleaner energy and cheaper electricity is this electric car and green house in Santa Monica, CA.

Paul Scott: This is a 3 kilowatt solar system that was installed about four years ago. It's been generating all the power for my house and my car since then.

Narrator: Mr. Scott buys power at night for ten cents a kilowatt hour, and then sells it back during the day for 40 cents per kilowatt hour.

Paul Scott: It's a pretty good business deal. Economically, it pencils out really well. And when you have an electric car, it pencils out even better because instead of just offsetting the electrical use for my house, I'm offsetting $3.50/gallon of gasoline, so that makes the solar system pay for itself that much faster.

Narrator: Nationwide and global use of alternative energy may not happen in the near future, but just having a smarter grid will have an enormous impact on our society.

John McDonald: What would be the benefits of Smart Grid? It would slash U.S. total carbon emissions output up to 25%. This would equate to the same CO2 benefits as planting up to 160 million acres of forest, equivalent to the size of the state of Texas, and elects benefits of taking up to 130 million cars off the road.

Narrator: The U.S. Congress has shown its support for the Smart Grid and the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. However, implementing a new nationwide electric system will require major investments and cooperation by government, utilities, and consumers.

David M. Ratcliffe: I believe that we will have by 2030 the capability to communicate with our customer base at levels unsurpassed and to understand usage patterns and to plan and operate our system at new levels of efficiency.

Narrator: The Smart Grid will bring intelligence and standardization to the way energy is transmitted, distributed, managed, and kept secure. It will enable consumers to manage their own energy usage. It's an enormous undertaking but the Smart Grid isn't just one final product.

John McDonald: So what is Smart Grid? We say it's a journey, not a single destination. It won't happen all at once. It's more of an evolution, which is why we sometimes refer to it the "smarter grid." It doesn't even need to happen in any particular order. The main thing is that it will realize tangible and real benefits.

Deepak Divan: We are stewards of the world we live in with the responsibility to hand it over to future generations in better shape than we received it.

Narrator: Developing and building the Smart Grid will be expensive, but many believe we really have no choice.

Deepak Divan: Sustainability may be nice, but can be afforded. Perhaps a more important question, given to the nasty things that happen to the world if we do not reach the goal of sustainable energy, is can we afford not to have it?


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