What happens on sunny days when solar panels capture more energy than their owner needs? Or on mild days when there isn't enough breeze to spin wind turbines?
Ideally, producers with excess energy supply could share it with those who are having shortages. Smart grids can arrange just that.
Smart power grids combine digital computing power, interconnected communications networks, storage technologies, smart meters, and other strategies so power companies can deliver electricity when and where it's needed, even if they rely on intermittent power sources such as solar and wind.
Greening of the Energy Grid
With the global push to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, smart grids have gained momentum. In the U.S. alone, federal Recovery Act funds and private sector investment in smart grids has reached US $10 billion. The U.S. joined with the European Commission and 14 countries to create the International Smart Grid Action Network (ISGAN).
These pilot projects are designed to optimize energy use and tap more renewables.
1. Queens, New York
Approximately 1,500 customers of Consolidated Edison Company (Con Ed) of New York, Inc., are participating in a smart grid pilot program that encompasses more than 8 square miles in the borough of Queens. The $6 million pilot program features innovations such as smart meters, a 100kW photovoltaic system installed on the roof of LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City, charging stations for electric vehicles, and an intelligent underground monitoring system to improve reliability.
Throughout Boulder, Colorado, SmartGridCity from Excel Energy links more than 20,000 smart meters to high-speed broadband data networks. The smart grid's interconnected inputs, real-time monitoring, and enhanced substations and transformers work to reduce the city's power outages. New pilot programs include special pricing structures based on renewable energy availability, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, and wireless smart air conditioning thermostats.
3. Tokyo, Japan
Mitsubishi Electric Corporation is spending 7 billion yen to test advanced smart grid technologies at three pilot sites in Japan. In Kamakura, the company plans experimental all-electric residences that link to the grid. The site in Wakayama will incorporate photovoltaic solar panels, and in Amagasaki the company is testing electricity monitoring systems and a rechargeable battery that can be used for transmission.
4. Chicago, Illinois
5. Cologne, Germany
A power company called Yello Strom GmbH in Cologne, Germany, has created a user-friendly smart meter that can be accessed through customers’ own home computers and Internet connections. Yello Strom’s smart grid pilot program will link these residential devices, called “Sparzählers,” to green energy sources and allow customers to schedule appliances to run at off-peak hours.