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Smart Grid: What is it and why is it important?

Smart Grid refers to an improved electricity supply chain that runs from a major power plant all the way inside your home. In short, there are thousands of power plants throughout the United States that generate electricity using wind energy, nuclear energy, coal, hydro, natural gas, and a variety of other resources.These generating stations produce electricity at a certain electrical voltage.This voltage is then “stepped-up” (increased) to very high voltages, such as 500,000 volts, to increase the efficiency of power transmission over long distances. Once this electrical power gets near your town or city, the electrical voltage is “stepped-down” (decreased) in a utility substation to a lower voltage for distribution around your town or city. As this electrical power gets closer to your home, it is stepped-down by another transformer to the voltage you use in your home. This power enters your home through your electrical meter. The voltage in your home is typically 110-120 volts for most appliances, but may also be 220-240 volts for an electric range, clothes dryer, or air conditioner.

In many areas of the United States, the electricity delivery system described above is getting old and worn out. In addition, population growth in some areas has caused the entire transmission system to be overused and fragile. At the same time, you have probably added more electronic devices to your home, such as computers, high-definition TV’s, microwave ovens, wireless telephones, and even electronic controls on refrigerators, ovens, and dishwashers. These new appliances are more sensitive to variations in electric voltage than old appliances, motors, and incandescent light bulbs. Unfortunately, the entire electrical grid is becoming more fragile at the same time the appliances in your home are getting more sensitive to electrical variations. In short, the reliability of electrical power in the United States will decline unless we do something about it now.

Adding new transmission lines will help the utilities get more power from the power plants to your home. However, many communities don’t want new power lines in their areas. In addition, adding new capacity, although needed, will not increase the reliability of all the old electrical equipment reaching the end of its useful life. What is needed is a new approach that significantly increases the efficiency of the entire electrical delivery system. This approach will not only increase reliability but will also reduce energy in the delivery process and thereby reduce greenhouse house emissions. We call this new approach Smart Grid.

The basic concept of Smart Grid is to add monitoring, analysis, control, and communication capabilities to the national electrical delivery system to maximize the throughput of the system while reducing the energy consumption. The Smart Grid will allow utilities to move electricity around the system as efficiently and economically as possible. It will also allow the homeowner and business to use electricity as economically as possible. You may want to keep your house set at 75 degrees F in the summertime when prices are low, but you may be willing to increase your thermostat to 78 degrees F if prices are high. Similarly, you may want to dry your clothes for 5 cents per kilowatt-hour at 9:00 pm instead of 15 cents per kilowatt-hour at 2:00 pm in the afternoon. You will have the choice and flexibility to manage your electrical use while minimizing your costs.

Smart Grid builds on many of the technologies already used by electric utilities but adds communication and control capabilities that will optimize the operation of the entire electrical grid. Smart Grid is also positioned to take advantage of new technologies, such as plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, various forms of distributed generation, solar energy, smart metering, lighting management systems, distribution automation, and many more.


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