Will Cities Drive Smart Grid Development?

San Francisco is working to convert the city’s entire transportation systemto cleaner fuels and electricity, and to build an urban infrastructurefor electric vehicles. Boulder, Colorado has already become thenation’s first “Smart Grid City.” And Austin, Texas has undertaken the “Pecan Street Project”to “develop, test and implement the urban power system of the future”and establish the city as “America’s clean energy laboratory.”

What do these cities have in common? They are on the leading edge ofmunicipal actions to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions throughsmarter electricity use and greater use and integration of clean energytechnologies, including distributed solar power.

A key element in these efforts is development of the “smart grid”concept. In a nutshell, smart grid is about bringing electric utilityoperations into the digital information age, in which the traditionalmodel of one-way power flows from large generation stations to customerelectricity loads is supplanted by a system that is more intelligent inits ability to collect, manage, communicate and respond to real-timeinformation about generation sources and customer loads.

Smart grid has many elements but the most critical will be tooptimize the integration and operation of what literally will bemillions of new devices connecting to the grid, such as solarphotovoltaic (PV) systems, wind turbines, smart appliances, electricvehicle charging stations, and energy storage devices, to name just afew.

A recent reportsponsored by the World Economic Forum notes that cities “will play apivotal role as catalysts for smart grid implementation . . . (and) . .. will be integral in managing the transition to a smarter energyinfrastructure and a functioning low-carbon economy.” After all, as thereport notes, 71% of GHG emissions are generated by urban environments.Cities and countiesare already on the forefront of solar energy adoption both by usingsolar to supply public electricity needs and by implementing programsto encourage greater solar adoption among their citizens. Hopefully,smart grid is not far behind.

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