The Economist has provided a good description of the Smart Grid and why it is so important to a sustainable energy future in its current issue (see Building the Smart Grid, June 4th).
AROUND the world billions of dollars are being invested in clean-energy technologies of one sort or another, from solar arrays and wind turbines to electric cars. But there is a problem lurking in the power grid that links them together. Green sources of power tend to be distributed and intermittent, which makes them difficult to integrate into the existing grid. And when it comes to electric cars, a study by America’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) found that there is already enough generating capacity to replace as much as 73% of America’s conventional fleet with electric vehicles—but only if the charging of those vehicles is carefully managed. In order to accommodate the flow of energy between new sources of supply and new forms of demand, the world’s electrical grids are going to have to become a lot smarter.
Even though the demands being placed on national electricity grids are changing rapidly, the grids themselves have changed very little since they were first developed more than a century ago. The first grids were built as one-way streets, consisting of power stations at one end supplying power when needed to customers at the other end. That approach worked well for many years, and helped drive the growth of industrial nations by making electricity ubiquitous, but it is now showing its age.
The U.S. administration certainly appears to listening to the need to move towards a smarter grid. In the Christian Science Monitor's bright green blog, Mark Clayton profiles Jon Wellinghoff, Chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (see Jon Wellinghoff, Obama's energy futurist, June 8th).
In Wellinghoff’s vision of the future, where the cost of carbon dioxide emissions is added to the price of coal-fired power plants and natural-gas turbines, it may be less expensive for consumers to set their appliances to avoid buying power at peak times. Or they may choose to buy power from a collection of microturbines, fuel cell, wind, solar, biomass, and ocean power systems.
“We’re going to see more distributed generation – and we’re already starting to see that happen,” Wellinghoff says. “Not only renewable generation like photovoltaic [panels] that people put on their homes and businesses, but also fossil-fuel systems like combined heat and power,” called cogeneration units.
To coordinate and harmonize this fluctuating phalanx of power sources, customers will need to know and be able to respond to the price of power, Wellinghoff says. They will also need a new generation of appliances that switch off automatically to balance power supply and demand peaks.
And so do the U.S. utilities. In Green News, CNET's environment blog, Martin LaMonica covers announcements by Duke Energy and ComEd of their chosen Smart Grid suppliers (see Cisco, Silver Spring Networks land smart-grid deals, June 9th).
Duke said that it has chosen Cisco to supply an array of equipment for a planned smart grid program estimated at $1 billion over the next few years. Cisco, which unveiled its smart-grid initiative last month, is expected to supply in-home energy monitors as well as networking hardware for Duke's substations, the utility said.
North Carolina-based Duke aims to provide a digital upgrade to its 11 million customers in the five states it operates.
"Replacing our analog electric grid with advanced digital technology to
create a 21st century electricity delivery system largely involves
data, networks, and communications--all of it Cisco's expertise," Todd
Arnold, senior vice president for smart grid and customer systems at
Duke Energy, said in a statement..........
Chicago-based ComEd on Tuesday announced its recommended providers, including General Electric for smart meters and Silver Spring Networks, which provides wireless communications and software.
If approved, the smart grid program would bring real-time information
on electricity usage and rates to consumers by installing 141,000
two-way meters in 11 Chicago suburbs.........
Seven-year-old Silver Spring Networks has emerged as one of the most successful providers, having secured deals with a handful of utilities, including Florida Power & Light.
Cisco, meanwhile, is making a concerted push around energy
efficiency and grid modernization, developing a full line of
communications products for utilities, consumers, and building managers.
So the question I have now is where are the Canadian utilities and technology suppliers?