Discovery Guides Areas


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

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  by Marianne Stanczak  


Key Citations




Renewable Energy & The Smart Grid


The smart grid can be seen as an alternative energy source, certainly a change from the current way of doing things. How does the movement toward a greener environment come into play? That is, how can the smart grid be made into a win-win-win situation for the consumers, the utilities, and the environment?

transmission tower and wind turbines
Wind power, solar power and high tech grid controls including net meterings and off-peak hours energy usage will soon help consumers save energy dollars.
Solar, wind and hydropower are still relatively rare in this country. One reason is because these are "intermittent" sources of power. What does this mean? Well, what if the "Windy City" of Chicago is not so windy one week and wind turbines stop spinning? Or what if the blazing sun of Arizona is suddenly overcome by a spell of gloomy, rainy days, and the solar plants that people depend on go dead? In addition to rerouting electricity, the smart grid would be able to fill in the gaps of these alternative energy power sources. One way this could be accomplished, surprisingly enough, is with another alternative energy technology —the electric car, specifically, the plug-in electric hybrid (PHEV). This would work through the concept of energy storage, in the case of the PHEV, specifically referred to as V2G or vehicle to grid. When a PHEV is plugged into the grid it acts as its own power plant. It would receive power from a wind turbine, for example, and in a period of still air could "give back" to the power grid (having collected the electricity) and thereby fill the gap of intermittent sources. A possible scenario involves wind turbines, which currently are most efficient in the early hours of the day: a PHEV is charging during this time, then driven off to work where it is plugged in again, in an office building garage filled with other PHEVs. Since they, in theory, have already absorbed the morning wind energy, they can now be used as mini powerhouses, providing electricity to the office building.

This use of alternative energy sources, like wind and solar reduces the nation's dependence on foreign oil and helps keep pollution from car exhaust and power plants to a minimum. Win-win-win.
diagram of transmission and distribution
Concept with the two-way flows of power and communication required to enable seamless PV interconnections to the electric grid with high levels of solar energy.

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For more on wind and solar energy, see the Discovery Guides Capturing the Wind: Power for the 21st Century and Why Not the Sun? Advantages of and Problems with Solar Energy.

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