Many hear the term “smart grid” yet fail to delve deeper to find out what it really means. Put simply, "smart grid" is simply an umbrella term for the technologies, equipment, systems and concepts that are enabling the ageing power grid system with the ability to communicate. The advantages of this, of course, are numerous to both utilities and the consumer.
"The biggest benefit is empowerment," said Patty Durand, executive director of the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative. "It includes empowerment of the consumer to take control over their energy expenditures. Right now, consumers have no idea what their electricity bill is going to be when it comes. When it does come, they don't know what went into the numbers they have to pay."
Cost savings aside, a smart grid also allows utility infrastructure to detect and report faults or outages. According to Dan Delurey, head of the Demand Response and Smart Grid Coalition, a smart grid even has the potential to reroute power to places in order prevent outages.
That said, the smart grid isn't necessarily about renewable energy sources as many mistakenly think — though it does offer more efficient use of all sources of power. This leads to greater efficiency, reliability, sustainability and resiliency of the electric grid.
That said, new smart grid technology is being developed at West Virginia University, while projects are also underway to improve existing technology. The primary struggle at the moment is to develop a standard communication protocol for vendors to adhere to, which will make interoperability much easier for all involved parties.
Though smart grid implementation may seem like a no-brainer, there is an upfront cost associated with implementing any new technology, and this, coupled with the misinformed belief that the smart grid eschews fossil fuels such as coal, has slowed smart grid adoption.
There are many organizations, such as the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative and Pecan Street Incorporated, hard at work in furthering the smart grid, though, so there is little doubt that it will soon be ubiquitous in many nations around the world.
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