Friday, Jan. 30, 2009

Smart Grid

Our electrically-powered TVs and iPods might be state-of-the-art, but the grid that brings that juice to our homes is barely 20th century. The U.S. electrical grid is antiquated, prone to breaking down and terribly wasteful. Utilities don't even know there has been a power outage until customers pick up the phone and call them. But we could achieve tremendous energy savings — and emit less carbon — if we marry the electrical grid to the networked power of the Internet, in a concept called the smart grid. Intelligent, networked electrical meters could track exactly how much electricity we're using, and adjust our rates and usage patterns automatically for maximum efficiency. A smart grid would lessen demand overall, allowing for intermittent alternative sources of power like wind and solar to be more easily slotted into the electrical supply. Bits and pieces of the smart grid are already taking shape — Obama's stimulus package includes $11 billion for the development of a nationwide smart grid — and utilities like Xcel are starting test projects in cities around the U.S.