Discovery Guides Areas


Plugging Into the Future: Smart Grids
(Released November 2009)

podcast link 
  by Marianne Stanczak  


Key Citations




Enter the Smart Grid


The smart grid, in a nutshell, is a way to transmit and distribute electricity by electronic means. Data and communication becomes a two-way street, with consumers (you and I) able to control how much electricity we use and when we use it. This means more than being able to switch lights on and off whenever you like. It's about knowing when is the best time to use the electricity in order to save money and reduce the stress and strain on the power grid.

trees, sun and power line
Tree limbs create a short circuit during a storm, typically resulting in a power outage

Sounds good, but massive, cascading blackouts aside, what, might you ask, is wrong with the current system? While other forms of power and technology have catapulted through the years (think 8-tracks to iPods), electricity has been stagnant, changing very little in the past century. In addition to being outdated, power plants and transmission lines are aging, meaning they have difficulty handling current electricity needs, let alone the ever-growing demand. While demand may not be reduced any time soon, it can still be "organized" in that both power companies and consumers can avoid overtaxing the system during periods of peak demand.

"According to projections from America's Energy Information Administration, electricity around the world will nearly double from about 17.3 trillion kWh in 2005 to 33.3 trillion kWh in 2030."1
demand line moving toward generating capacity line
U.S. Electricity Capacity and Demand

The projection for the US alone is 5.15 trillion kWh. Clearly, if we will require fifteen percent of the world's electricity, we need a better system. One solution could be to add more power lines, but the aging system would still be overwhelmed. So instead of a quick fix, a more reliable, permanent solution is needed.

Go To Back to the Smart Grid

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