The New Smart Grid: 21st Century Tech for the 21st Century
by Bill Chameides | March 6th, 2009
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)
While our electric grid has been enormously successful, many believe that a computerized, adaptive system (a so-called “smart” or “intelligent” grid) could do better. I see four key issues the smart grid could address. (OSHA)
Part two of two in a series on smart grids
First, a recap of last week’s post: In the late 19th century Thomas Edison pushed for a distributed system to deliver electrical power. His dream was never fully realized. Instead, George Westinghouse’s system designed circa 1891 took shape and forms the structure of today’s grid: a centralized system.
|Smart Grid Mini-series|
|1: Powering Our 21st Century Lives With a 19th Century Design Go »|
|2: The New Smart Grid: 21st Century Tech for This Century|
Today’s Grid: What’s Wrong
While it’s based on his vision, Westinghouse might not recognize our current grid – a vast system of some 16,000 power plants connected by hundreds of thousands of transmission lines carrying electrons to millions. Collectively, every year we consume more than 4,000 million megawatt-hours of electricity.
We’re used to electricity on demand. We expect the flip of a light switch to produce instant illumination. To accomplish this, we’ve organized our electric grid into three wide-area, synchronous grids: an East, a West, and a Texas grid (it’s special I guess).
Why synchronous? And why not national? It all has to do with that pesky alternating current (AC), in which electrons move back and forth. Here’s the thing – you can’t just plug different power plants, windmills, or regional grids together. (See figure 1 here for a breakdown of our energy sources.)