Last century’s electric grid was not designed for this century’s shift to clean, renewable energy. Accommodating the fluctuations of wind and solar power necessitates a more nimble, adaptive grid. The emerging “smart grid” is a digital retooling of the traditional grid with the needs of a clean energy economy in mind.
A smart grid is smart in the sense that it engages in two-way communication between suppliers and consumers to predict, adjust, and sync power supply and demand. Today, the balancing act between producers and users takes place within utilities’ operations centers. Internet connectivity, intelligent software, and responsive technologies can assist and even automate the management of electricity flow.
To smooth out peaks in demand and absorb variable supply, smart grids need:
- High-voltage power lines with sensors
- Advanced meters that communicate wirelessly
- Responsive appliances, plugs, and thermostats
The current grid has been called the largest and most interconnected machine on earth. Making it smarter is a massive undertaking that will occur in phases over the coming decades. Studies show the investment required will be well worth it, as smart grids improve grid stability and overall efficiency while facilitating the shift away from fossil fuels.
smart grids [potential] emissions reductions: IEA. Technology Roadmap: Smart Grids, Paris: International Energy Agency, 2011.
pioneers such as South Korea: Bulkin, Bernie. “South Koreans are Leading the Way in Their Vision for ‘Smart Grid.” The Guardian. May 2, 2014.
both utilities and users [can] save money: Gellings, Clark, et al. Estimating the Costs and Benefits of the Smart Grid. Palo Alto, CA: Electric Power Research Institute, 2011.
[descriptions of] current grid: Bakke, Gretchen. The Grid: The Fraying Wires Between Americans and Our Energy Future. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 2016; Weeks, Jennifer. “U.S. Electrical Grid Undergoes Massive Transition to Connect to Renewables.” Scientific American. April 28, 2010.
United States…investment [and return]: Gellings et al, Smart Grid.