KBB Collective | The Designers' Corner

Jan 14 2011

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The Smart Grid: the future of energy independence

On the eve of the greatest infrastructure overhaul since bringing electricity to the Tennessee Valley, less than 20 percent of the U.S. population has heard of the Smart Grid, let alone of how it will affect their lives in the years to come.

So what is the Smart Grid? A smart grid is an electricity network that utilizes digital technology. It delivers electricity from suppliers to consumers using two-way digital communications to control energy consumption by appliances at homes, condos and apartments; this will save energy, reduce cost and increase reliability and transparency. The Smart Grid will overlay the existing and outdated electrical grid with an information and net metering system that will include residential smart meters.

At the heart of the Smart Grid is the ability to apply two-way communication between sensing, measurement and control devices to the electricity production, transmission, distribution and consumption components of the power grid. This ability allows for the communication of information about grid condition to system users, operators and automated devices, making it possible to dynamically respond to changes in grid condition.

A smart grid includes an intelligent monitoring system that keeps track of all electricity flowing in the system, as well as the capability of integrating renewable electricity, such as solar and wind. When power is least expensive, users can allow the smart grid to turn on selected home appliances—such as washing machines—or factory processes that can run at arbitrary hours. At peak times, it could turn off selected appliances to reduce demand.

Today, energy flows and disburses with very little control or regulation, much like water flowing from a garden hose without a nozzle. With the Smart Grid, energy use and distribution will look and feel more like a train routing board at the station house. Energy will be able to be used, rerouted and terminated or regulated as required.  Solar or wind usage can be easily integrated into the system as demand requires, or terminated and supplemented due to changes in the weather.

Power failures and grid collapse will be a thing of ancient history as the system will be able to anticipate and reroute electricity due to grid disruption.

Home electrical devices, such as TVs, microwaves, ovens and refrigerators, consume over half the power in a typical U.S. home. With the introduction of smart meters and smart appliances, the ability to shut down or hibernate devices when not in use or when not receiving data could be a major factor in cutting energy use,

The brain of the Smart Home will be the Smart Meter, which connects the home to the grid and can provide the homeowner with a basic outline of their electricity use, thus helping them to identify activities that draw the most power. More advanced versions involve having individual appliances participate in a local network, which allows for a detailed analysis of power use.

Smart appliances will enable two-way communications in order to provide demand response management. Power utilities can provide a signal when electricity supplies are getting tight, thus allowing homeowners to set their appliances to respond accordingly by employing such means as temporarily shutting off the hot water heater or raising the thermostat slightly on a summer day. The homeowner will get lower electric rates for their participation, while the utility avoids power outage due to overuse.

To enable all of that to work, however, we need the right hardware in place. A 10-year-old refrigerator, oven or microwave will not contribute to nor take advantage of the Smart Grid. Many appliance manufacturers are already producing Smart-Grid-compliant appliances, and through new construction, remodeling and aging appliance replacement, many consumers are already installing the first wave of smart appliances in their homes without fully understanding their contribution to the future of energy conservation.

Kevin Henry

This entry was posted on Friday, January 14th, 2011 at 7:22 AM and is filed under Green. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


  1.  Lee Johnson |

    When will this “overhaul” be complete and will it become available or integrated by region?