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Understanding the Smart Grid

August 9, 2011 4:59 pm

I didn’t feel too smart when it came to the latest information about the rapidly growing U.S. Electrical “smart grid”—so I plugged into some good intel on the subject from Tom Simchak of the Alliance to Save Energy.

According to Simchak, the smart grid is a system of interconnected technologies that enable two-way communications between different parts of the electric power system—from generation through to the appliances—that consume electricity.

This system of communication gives grid operators greater awareness of the condition of the electrical grid at any given location. But Simchak says it also allows consumers the opportunity to have a better understanding of their own energy use—potentially down to individual appliances’ consumption, which allows consumers to identify energy saving opportunities.

Smart grid systems also could open up opportunities for energy management companies, hired by consumers, to use data from “smart meters” to identify opportunities for energy savings, or to measure the success of energy saving measures after they are undertaken.

For utilities, smart grid technologies have the capacity to allow for reductions in electricity use targeted at times when demand is highest. Called demand response, these peak reductions can reduce the strain placed on the electrical grid, and the need for high-cost generation resources.

According to Simchak, consumers participating in demand response activities are compensated for the service.

Consumers do not have to take an action each time a utility calls for demand response activities. Simchak says a utility can simply send a signal to smart-capable appliances that take action based on pre-programmed consumer preferences.

The Electric Consumer Right to Know Act proposed in May of 2011 would allow customers to give third parties access to their consumption data, allowing third-party energy management services to process and reinterpret data from smart meters and to program smart appliances for consumers.

Such services could simplify smart meters’ use, create the potential for greater energy savings, and allow for an aggregation of savings for load management. Retail electric providers would be able to recover the costs of this requirement in electricity rates, subject to the regulation of their public utility commissions or other authority with jurisdiction.
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