Updating our antiquated electric grid
Transforming the electric grid from a narrow one-way street to a multi-lane highway
What is a smart grid?A "smart" electric grid allows homes and businesses to use, as well as produce and sell, electricity in a more technologically advanced way. How would a day on the smart grid go?Carol Zuber-Mallison
Not your average solar panelsEarly in the morning, your solar panels have checked the weather to calculate how much energy they’ll need. They’ve told the dishwasher that the sun is shining so it can kick on.AtominumeroUNO / Shutterstock Images
Puts your smartphone to workWhoops! You’ve left for work, but forget to program your water heater to shut down since no hot water is needed when the house is empty. It’s OK – you can use your smart phone.Julia Robinson
You can sell your surplus powerAs temperatures and electricity demand climb during the afternoon – at times of peak demand – your solar panels sell extra electricity back to the electric provider for a premium.iStock
Avoiding peak usage (and peak costs)Meanwhile grid managers might cut a deal with your freezer: They pay it (and other freezers in town) to postpone defrosting. Now the grid can meet demand spikes without crashing.Julia Robinson
Your car can be part of the grid, tooYour electric car knows when there’s extra solar or wind power, and that’s when it recharges itself. Your car also knows when your house needs power, and can send extra.John Rae
Over 3,000 electric utilities make up the U.S. power grid, or what is often referred to as the “largest machine in the world.” Yet the fundamental design of this machine hasn’t been updated since Thomas Edison invented it over a century ago.
A critical opportunity
Over the next 20 years, utilities will have to invest a projected $2 trillion to modernize our electric grid, most of which is past the age of retirement.
Our challenge is to make sure this opportunity is not wasted on replacing archaic, dirty infrastructure with more of the same. We need new rules and approaches to convert the grid from a system of centralized, fossil fuel power plants to an intelligent, efficient, connected network that smoothly integrates more renewable energy.
In practical terms, we’re transforming the electric grid from a narrow one-way street to a multi-lane highway, letting the grid perform more like the Internet – managing vast amounts of energy and information in ways that deliver more and cost less.
A modernized, low-carbon energy system will deliver cleaner air, better health, more reliable electricity and greater consumer choice and control over energy costs.
Smart grid economics
- $2 trillion the amount needed to upgrade the U.S. power grid over the next 20 years.1
- $70.2 billion in revenue from smart grid technologies expected by 2023 (from $44.1 billion in 2014).2
- Transforming America’s Power Industry: The Investment Challenge 2010-2030. Prepared by: Marc W. Chupka, Robert Earle, Peter Fox-Penner, Ryan Hledik of The Brattle Group for the Edison Foundation.
- "Revenue from Smart Grid Technologies is Expected to Reach $70.2 Billion Annually by 2023, Forecasts Navigant Research," Business Wire. November 17, 2014.