What is the Smart Energy Grid?

In the United States, electricity is generally something that wetake for granted.  We flip a switch and a light illuminates the room. Yet the system behind that switch is extremely complex and increasinglyinefficient.  Luckily, entrepreneurs, utility owners, and policymakersare collaborating to address such inefficiencies with the applicationof digital technology.  The smart grid.  You’ve probablyheard the term before.  In this four-part series, we will explore whatexactly the smart grid is, why our current grid is inadequate, how wewill benefit from a smart energy grid, and exactly where we stand todayin upgrading our electrical grid.  The final section will also look atwhat this all means for solar energy.  First, let’s try to understandwhat the news media and policymakers mean when they talk about thesmart grid.

As the summer of 2009 enters full swing, the term “smart grid” ispopping up everywhere.  Capitol Hill, General Electric, Google, Cisco,the Obama Administration, and maybe even your local utility havestarted talking about building out the smart grid.  Major dictionariesand encyclopedias have yet to define the term, yet those operatingwithin the sector have each attempted to describe exactly what thesmart grid is.  After culling through various public and private sectorreports, the smhttp://www.getsolar.com/blog/the-smart-energy-grid-part-i-what-is-it/art grid can best be defined as the application of 21st century information technology to bring about more efficient use of electricity from production to consumption.

Companies such as Google, Tendril, Silver Spring Networks, GE,and more have all begun to bring innovative technologies to the smartgrid table.  Many of these companies are beginning to forgepartnerships with utilities in order to see the application of smartgrid technology.  A perfect example of this is Tendril, which haspartnered with Xcel Energy to create a “Smart Grid City”in Boulder, CO.  The purpose is to use the Boulder pilot as a platformin which to learn more about how advanced meters work, how to improvethe information loop between consumer and utility, and if consumerswill indeed alter behavior and become active participants in energyconsumption.

Now that we have an idea on what the smart grid entails and who someof the major players are in the industry, the next step is tounderstand why we need to upgrade our energy grid and, in essence, get smart with regard to our electrical network.