Government Technology

Smart Electricity Grid Aims to Increase Energy Efficiency



June 28, 2009 By

Every so often, America embarks on a project so audacious that it hardly seems possible. Prime examples: the top-secret Manhattan Project that made the first operable atomic bomb, the construction of the country's interstate highway system starting in the 1950s, and President John F. Kennedy's challenge to land men on the moon.

These government-sponsored projects often arise during times of political or economic duress, and so it is today with the $4.5 billion of seed money for a nationwide "smart electricity grid" inserted in the economic recovery package that was approved by Congress shortly after President Barack Obama took the oath.

The leadership is pinning much of its hopes for America's long-term economic renewal on a nationwide, interconnected system of smart electricity meters and sensors that would increase energy efficiency, reliability, and also encourage "green" technologies like wind and solar generation and hybrid cars.

It won't be an easy feat. There are parallels between the country's attempt to build a new electricity network and astronaut Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon, said Jim Marston, Texas regional director of the Environmental Defense Fund.

"NASA knew where they were trying to get and they knew where they were, and so after the goal was announced, they spent a little while figuring out the path to get there. Shortly after that, they actually put the engineering on the ground," Marston said.

 

Government's Pivotal Role

The smart grid, Marston said, is still in the planning stage, but more smart grid test projects are under way at the local level, in places like Miami; Austin, Texas; Massachusetts; and Southern California. State and local governments have facilitated many of these projects in partnership with nonprofits or technology vendors.

In April, Miami launched a $200 million smart grid project called Energy Smart Miami, with the goal of connecting almost all homes and businesses in Miami-Dade County to a smart grid by 2011. The project is being driven by the Florida Power & Light utility company, supported by General Electric and Cisco Systems. Much of the project will be funded by Obama's economic stimulus package.

Massachusetts is signing off on a few communities' smart grid pilots, which are mandated by the state's 2008 Green Communities Act. In one such test, 15,000 smart meters will be installed in homes in Worcester, Mass., by National Grid, a London-based electricity generator.

In Austin, Texas, the municipally owned utility company will finish deploying smart meters to the city's homes later this year. And a public-private initiative that includes the City Council has been formed to study how to best use the smart meters to transform Austin's energy infrastructure.

And Southern California Edison, one of the largest utility companies in the U.S., will install 5 million smart meters in its coverage area by 2012. Edison estimates that the smart meters will save peak power consumption that's the equivalent of one big power plant. The move toward smart grid is being motivated by California's renewable energy portfolio standard that requires electricity companies to get at least 20 percent of the power they distribute from renewable sources by 2010.

 

What's a Smart Grid?

Though regulators, politicians, vendors and environmentalists haven't come to a consensus on what exactly constitutes a smart grid, one of its core features will be "smart" electricity meters that integrate IT. Smart meters will be installed in homes, businesses and public buildings - virtually anywhere


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Comments

Keith Saxe    |    Commented June 19, 2009

Your "Smart Grid" story was interesting. It presented enough facts with enough slant to make the "Big, Bold, and Beautiful" sub line seem like it can only happen if the Federal government gets involved. The analogy to the Interstate Highway system is faulty. You cannot travel I-80 from bridge to bridge without stopping for gas along the way. And you cannot send electricity from solar panels in AZ or wind farms in IA to NYC. Look up "transmission loss" for the reasons. But suffice it to say the curves cross at apx. 500 miles. You can transmit power further, and it is done, but at a cost that soon become prohibitive. It is only done when the rules for maintaining service over ride the rules of efficiency. The laws of physics involved cannot be rescinded, rewritten, or ignored. They are beyond the scope of government or politics. The US cannot look to the UK, or France, or anywhere in Europe for an example of a nationwide grid program to follow. We are just too big. The entire UK, including Ireland, would rattle around in Texas. Any European national grid would be, at most, a regional grid, in the US. The hint is given that a "Smart Grid" would avoid another Northeast Blackout. That is not true. The grid equipment in that incident was smart enough to turn off the problem area. But the automatic controls were overridden by the human operator repeatedly and that is what caused the cascading problems. If he would have let the machines do what they were programmed to do, there would have been a small local blackout of a few counties. It was human, not machine, error that got us a multi State event. But based on the facts in the story alone you can see that more government control is not needed. All the current successes listed, such as better meters, communications, smart appliances, etc. were done on a local, at most, regional basis. Under the current regularity environment it is very difficult for a utility to raise rates to cover raising costs. The only option is to increase efficiency. That is not a "Smart Grid." That is just good business practice.

Keith Saxe    |    Commented June 19, 2009

Your "Smart Grid" story was interesting. It presented enough facts with enough slant to make the "Big, Bold, and Beautiful" sub line seem like it can only happen if the Federal government gets involved. The analogy to the Interstate Highway system is faulty. You cannot travel I-80 from bridge to bridge without stopping for gas along the way. And you cannot send electricity from solar panels in AZ or wind farms in IA to NYC. Look up "transmission loss" for the reasons. But suffice it to say the curves cross at apx. 500 miles. You can transmit power further, and it is done, but at a cost that soon become prohibitive. It is only done when the rules for maintaining service over ride the rules of efficiency. The laws of physics involved cannot be rescinded, rewritten, or ignored. They are beyond the scope of government or politics. The US cannot look to the UK, or France, or anywhere in Europe for an example of a nationwide grid program to follow. We are just too big. The entire UK, including Ireland, would rattle around in Texas. Any European national grid would be, at most, a regional grid, in the US. The hint is given that a "Smart Grid" would avoid another Northeast Blackout. That is not true. The grid equipment in that incident was smart enough to turn off the problem area. But the automatic controls were overridden by the human operator repeatedly and that is what caused the cascading problems. If he would have let the machines do what they were programmed to do, there would have been a small local blackout of a few counties. It was human, not machine, error that got us a multi State event. But based on the facts in the story alone you can see that more government control is not needed. All the current successes listed, such as better meters, communications, smart appliances, etc. were done on a local, at most, regional basis. Under the current regularity environment it is very difficult for a utility to raise rates to cover raising costs. The only option is to increase efficiency. That is not a "Smart Grid." That is just good business practice.

Keith Saxe    |    Commented June 19, 2009

Your "Smart Grid" story was interesting. It presented enough facts with enough slant to make the "Big, Bold, and Beautiful" sub line seem like it can only happen if the Federal government gets involved. The analogy to the Interstate Highway system is faulty. You cannot travel I-80 from bridge to bridge without stopping for gas along the way. And you cannot send electricity from solar panels in AZ or wind farms in IA to NYC. Look up "transmission loss" for the reasons. But suffice it to say the curves cross at apx. 500 miles. You can transmit power further, and it is done, but at a cost that soon become prohibitive. It is only done when the rules for maintaining service over ride the rules of efficiency. The laws of physics involved cannot be rescinded, rewritten, or ignored. They are beyond the scope of government or politics. The US cannot look to the UK, or France, or anywhere in Europe for an example of a nationwide grid program to follow. We are just too big. The entire UK, including Ireland, would rattle around in Texas. Any European national grid would be, at most, a regional grid, in the US. The hint is given that a "Smart Grid" would avoid another Northeast Blackout. That is not true. The grid equipment in that incident was smart enough to turn off the problem area. But the automatic controls were overridden by the human operator repeatedly and that is what caused the cascading problems. If he would have let the machines do what they were programmed to do, there would have been a small local blackout of a few counties. It was human, not machine, error that got us a multi State event. But based on the facts in the story alone you can see that more government control is not needed. All the current successes listed, such as better meters, communications, smart appliances, etc. were done on a local, at most, regional basis. Under the current regularity environment it is very difficult for a utility to raise rates to cover raising costs. The only option is to increase efficiency. That is not a "Smart Grid." That is just good business practice.

John K    |    Commented September 4, 2009

Smart grid is just a smoke screen for a rate increase by every electric utility company in the country. It's designed to push up rates under the guise of saving energy and then when they discover that the utilities still have to build power plants, they will cost more and rates will have to go up again. Enery saving devices for homes and businesses are already available without letting the big utilities install their expensive equipment and raise rates. You can buy these off the shelves and if the federal government wants to encourage energy efficiency, then it should just incent people to buy and install them rather than forcing increased costs onto every electric customer in the nation.

John K    |    Commented September 4, 2009

Smart grid is just a smoke screen for a rate increase by every electric utility company in the country. It's designed to push up rates under the guise of saving energy and then when they discover that the utilities still have to build power plants, they will cost more and rates will have to go up again. Enery saving devices for homes and businesses are already available without letting the big utilities install their expensive equipment and raise rates. You can buy these off the shelves and if the federal government wants to encourage energy efficiency, then it should just incent people to buy and install them rather than forcing increased costs onto every electric customer in the nation.

John K    |    Commented September 4, 2009

Smart grid is just a smoke screen for a rate increase by every electric utility company in the country. It's designed to push up rates under the guise of saving energy and then when they discover that the utilities still have to build power plants, they will cost more and rates will have to go up again. Enery saving devices for homes and businesses are already available without letting the big utilities install their expensive equipment and raise rates. You can buy these off the shelves and if the federal government wants to encourage energy efficiency, then it should just incent people to buy and install them rather than forcing increased costs onto every electric customer in the nation.


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