Green and the Electric Grid
The electric power industry presents a substantial challenge for slowing the advance of global climate change. The easiest way to explain the evolution of the electric grid in the United States is to present it as a metaphor.
If Alexander Graham Bell were somehow transported to the 21st century, he would not begin to recognize the components of modern telephony – cell phones, texting, cell towers, PDAs, etc. – while Thomas Edison, one of the grid’s key early architects, would be totally familiar with the grid.
- Download the Smart grid diagram in .pdf format.
The current Grid
Our century-old power grid is the largest intertwined powerhouse on Earth, so massively complex and inextricably linked to human involvement and endeavor that it has appropriately been called an ecosystem. In many ways, the present grid works exceptionally well for what it was designed to do – for example, keeping costs down.
We have out-grown the current Grid
Modern society – all of us – has taken this remarkable machine for granted. As a result, our overwhelmed grid has begun to fail us more frequently and presents us with substantial risks. Since 1982, we have experienced tremendous growth in demand for electricity – driven by population growth, bigger houses, bigger TVs, more air conditioners, more computers, servers and data centers – has exceeded transmission growth by almost twenty-five percent every year. With this tremendous growth in demand for electricity, one would expect research and development and innovation on the grid to keep pace, however, the spending on research and development on the current grid is among the lowest of all industries. Even as demand has climbed, there has been acute under investment in getting energy where it needs to go through transmission and distribution, which further results in a limited grid with minor efficiency and reliability.
Poor reliability of current Grid
Within the United States, there have been five major blackouts over the past forty years, three of which occurred in the past nine years. More blackouts are occurring due to the slow response times of mechanical switches, a lack of automated analytics, and “poor visibility” – a “lack of situational awareness” on the part of grid operators.
Better efficiency opportunities
If the current grid were just five percent more efficient, the energy savings would result in permanently eliminating the fuel and greenhouse gas emissions from 53 million cars! And, if every American household replaced just one incandescent bulb with a compact fluorescent bulb, the country would conserve enough energy to light 3 million homes and save more than $600 million each year. Obviously, there are terrific opportunities for improvement.
Greening America’s electric infrastructure
What is the Smart Grid and how is it “Green”? The Smart Grid is an electric system that is cleaner and more efficient, reliable, resilient and responsive. The shorter the distance from generation to consumption, the more efficient, economical and “green” the grid will be. A smarter grid will empower consumers to become active contributors in their energy choices to a degree never before possible. And it will offer more visibility and control of energy usage.
The Smart Grid transforms the current grid to one that functions more responsively:
- “Green” – slowing the advance of global climate change and presenting a substantial path toward significant environmental improvement. Smart Grid offers clean, renewable sources of energy like solar, wind, and geothermal can easily be integrated into the nation’s grid.
- Efficient – able to meet increased consumer demand without adding infrastructure
- Reliability – able to deliver the power quality necessary – free of sags, spikes, disturbances and interruptions
Smart Grid and Greening our Environment
- 20% of the carbon dioxide we produce in the United States is generated by the nation’s transportation segment.
- 40% of the carbon dioxide we produce in the United States is generated by the electricity utilized.
Global climate change and the Power Industry
There is an enormous challenge for the electric power industry in terms of global climate change. Smart Grid deployment is a key tool in addressing the challenges of climate change, ultimately and significantly reducing greenhouse gases and criteria pollutants such as NOx, SOx and particulates.
Current Smart Grid efforts:
- The City of Fort Collins: High Penetration of Clean Energy Technologies – The city and its city-owned Fort Collins Utility support a wide variety of clean energy initiatives, including the establishment of a Zero Energy District within the city.
- West Virginia: Super Circuit by Allegheny Energy – The super circuit project is designed to demonstrate an advanced distribution circuit with improved reliability and security through integration of distributed resources and advanced monitoring, control, and protection technologies.
Competition in the Global Economy with Green Power
Regaining our early lead in solar and wind will create an enduring green-collar economy and help build our economic recovery in the United States.