OPINION: The Smart Grid Could be the Answer to America’s Energy Crisis

10/14/2015 - 16:25

Ryan De La Rosa | @fernsandmoss

Let’s agree that the last ten years have seen impressive innovation. We’ve seen more technological advances at a faster rate than ever before. With great technological advances come many questions of ethics. What are we going to do when drones overtake the sky? Will Uber rid themselves of their drivers and simply use autonomous drones to cart people from point A to point B?

Before we are able to envision that kind of reality where convenience comes first and the environment is considered a priority, money has to be affected positively. Throughout the last few decades it’s been quite profitable to exploit the environment in the search for the almighty dollar. This concept has the chance to change with the integration of the Smart Grid.

The Impending Need for Smart Metered Electricity

Electricity is primarily generated from nonrenewable sources. This is posing a threat to our current system of power providers as the need for electricity is set to rise at 4% this winter in the United States. While many people don’t fully understand the issues we are facing, the power grid is in a constant state of catch-up in order to satisfy demand. This is an issue because as power needs increase with population, natural resources cannot suffice quickly enough.

What Are Smart Grid Technologies?

Previous technology, or analog electricity meters, had the misfortune of performing poorly or adjusting incorrectly (i.e. slow reporting times). With smart grid meters, there is a constant communication with the electricity provider and home or business owner. Integrating smartphone technology, like this thermostat app, allows user intervention and learns user preferences to save energy. It is because of this accuracy that the smart grid is able to save power, save money, and on a grand scale, save the planet.

The lofty goal of saving the planet comes into focus when we see the pathway of smart meters. From phone and control panels, homeowners are able to control a plethora of devices and use energy from the grid only when necessary. This results in a much lower environmental impact.

Although communication breakthroughs in networking and software allows for a bright future, the fact is that smart grid technology has had some caveats in the infrastructure. This technology is only now making its appearance as a viable option. Here are a few of the challenges that make smart grid difficult to implement.

• Voluminous amounts of technical jargon and learning
• Low-speed communication networks
• Engineering effort and cost
• Compatibility between engineers working on development of smart grid interfaces
• Previous technology is extremely prevalent and stands in the way of innovation

Smart Solutions

‘Demand response’ is the term used for energy providers and seems like the key to saving energy for the better of our environment. However, it is not possible until smart grid technology is implemented in a large enough scope. Here’s how it works:

I. Electricity requirements spike in an area.
II. Smart meter technology finds a low demand area.
III. Rather than expend more fuels to meet the supply, providers shut down power plants in low demand areas.

With a system in place to monitor activity levels and aggregate users into groups, demand response can be implemented to save many of the resources lost in our current power supply system. Without wasting resources that don’t get used and accurately accounting for our electrical supply this system will save billions of dollars.

What Will the Future hold?

In closing, there may just yet be a future for our current power grid. However, it’s going to take a large makeover and the collaborative work of many engineers and designers. The race is one to save the planet; this will be an interesting contender to watch. Perhaps one day we will able to power autonomous Uber cabs, and fly across the sky in drones, but for now the infrastructure needs our help.

Ryan De La Rosa is predicting future changes over on Twitter @fernsandmoss