What is a “Smart Grid”? 

This Popular Mechanics’ story on smart grid offers an esoteric, but interesting look on what exactly is meant by “smart grid” and why it’s important in thinking about the electric grid of the future. Here’s a snapshot from the story:

There’s another potential problem with lumping the entire future of the grid into a poorly defined buzzword. Utility-controlled refrigerators and grid visualization software might help grid managers predict a mid-August brownout, but these are emergency countermeasures, intended to kick in during brief spikes in demand. These aspects of grid management won’t make possible permanent increases in power consumption. What if plug-in hybrid electric vehicles become a mainstay in American households? This switch could lower American consumption in oil while significantly increasing the demand for electricity. “Can our existing system handle it? Given that the grid is stressed already, probably not,” says Brad Allenby, a professor of civil, environmental and sustainable engineering at Arizona State University. “The difficulty with the smart grid, as a term, is that it implies a technological issue. The biggest barriers to implementing more intelligent electrical systems are probably not going to be technological, but financial and institutional. We’re trivializing the problem in ways that almost guarantee that we will optimize subsystems, while the entire system remains vulnerable.” Read more

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