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Energy for the future: Smart grid technology

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“Smart grid” technology, which uses digital technology to monitor and control electricity flow into homes and businesses, is not as far off as you might think. A recent article in Professional Remodeler called smart grid technology — “including the development of custom and web-based display panels that show real-time home energy use, and even real-time energy use broken out by individual appliance” — a top-ten trend to watch in 2010.

Cnet’s Green Tech blog offers a good introduction:

Building the smart grid means adding computer and communications technology to the existing electricity grid. With an overlay of digital technology, the grid promises to operate more efficiently and reliably. It can also accommodate more solar and wind power, which are inconsistent sources of energy that can become more reliable with better controls. Much like computers and routers manage the flow of bits on the Internet, smart-grid technologies use information to optimize the flow of electricity.

So what exactly can a smart energy grid do for homeowners? Among other things:

  • It can heal itself: Using sensors built into the system, pieces of the grid can communicate with each other, reporting problems and balance load distribution to remedy current problems or alleviate looming trouble.
  • Encourage consumers to proactively monitor and reduce energy usage: If you’re able to see how much energy you’re using and which appliances or devices are using the most, you can easily make changes to save more or conserve energy.
  • Enable “electricity markets”: Consumers can better control how much energy is used and even when it’s used, avoiding peaks in demand  times high demand
  • Make alternative energy sources easier to use: As explained above, with a smarter, more flexible power grid, solar and wind generation become more reliable.

Some are leery of the benefits, though, and are concerned about the impact on consumers’ pocketbooks:

Consumer advocates have a different perspective. First, even with stimulus grants, consumers have to pay part of the cost of any smart meter rollout, but much of the benefit is in lower operating costs for utilities. More crucial, all consumers, including those who can’t or don’t want to be responsible for monitoring their electricity use, could be exposed to volatile prices. An elderly woman home alone on a summer day could see rates in her community triple or quadruple without being able to do much about it.

Exactly when and how smart grid technology will be implemented in homes across the country is, clearly, not yet known. But with consumers increasingly demanding efficiency-driven remodeling and renovation projects, one thing’s for sure: It’s only a matter of time.

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