Vijay Vaitheeswaran: A smart electricity grid not only delivers us power when we turn on the switch and we want to use electricity in our homes, but it can monitor how effectively and efficiently the system is delivering power to us, and it can also bring information back to the system operator in real time.
There are several reasons to upgrade to a smart grid, but the most pressing one is reliability.
If we don't act decisively and soon to invest in smart grid, we're going to begin to see several kinds of problems. But there are also missed opportunities, the opportunities to tackle climate change by decarbonizing our grid, by embedding more renewables in an economic fashion, by seeing entirely new green industries take off.
Most wasteful is the fact that at four o'clock in the afternoon in sunny California everybody turns on their air-conditioning, and the grid is pushed towards overload.
Yes, one of the greatest advantages of moving to smart grid is the potential in time that electric vehicles will be able to connect to the grid. Secondly, at peak, when the whole system is about to go into overload, smart software can connect a number of vehicles to the grid and sell power back to the grid.
There's no question that any smart grid technology and software combination must put security first as one of the paramount concerns.
Average people need to become much more savvy about the sources, limits, and other aspects of the electricity they consume. To develop a smart grid, some people say we need a national commitment, almost like an Apollo mission. Some people make the analogy to the Apollo mission or a moon shot as the only way to get a smart grid done. The smart grid won't happen unless we begin to be a little bit more mindful about the true source of energy and how we use electricity in our homes.
Our electric grid is a marvel of 20th-century engineering, but it's showing signs of strain. China is ramping up production of solar technology and smart electric grids, but coal power remains king. The archaic nature of baseload power–or why electricity will become like long-distance. The old grid, beholden to massive, polluting baseload power plants, is being replaced by a nimbler, high-tech 21st century system oriented toward variable renewable energy. But, as we all now know all too clearly, that system had a price–a price not reflected in the cost of electricity. The ability to integrate a moderately large amount (say 30-35% or so) of renewables into a baseload-dominated grid is a given. One problem, obviously, is that utilities don’t want to close their old baseload power plants if they are still useful at generating electricity. In the real world, rather than abstract economic modeling scenarios, electricity is a necessity and it will be provided. Electricity may never be free, or too cheap to meter, but it may well become one of life’s little bargains. The solar rooftop people have pretty much already figured this out for their slice of the business–whether by lease or purchase, you pay primarily for the equipment, installation and maintenance, not so much for the electricity. This entry was posted in energy future, Nuclear Economics, Renewables and tagged baseload, grid, solar power, storage on August 20, 2015 by Michael Mariotte.

I look forward to seeing a grid wide test to determine if power grids can actually function without baseload. Even if electricity and liquid fuels were free and nonpolluting there are many other limits to growth that we are colliding into, including food, fresh water, forests, soils, fish.
What are luxuries you may ask: refrigeration, automobiles, electronic gadgets, airline travel, grocery stores containing food from all over the world without any shortage, restaurants, telephones, electricity, air conditioning, shopping malls, highways, trains, etc.
That all said, a thorough understanding of the facts leads me to believe that increased use of renewable energy will not adequately substitute for the fossil energy (which includes nuclear-generated energy due to low historic net energy return from nuclear) that provides the base load for the North American electric grid. I agree with Michael Marriotte that a renewable-powered electric grid is totally viable, speaking strictly from an engineering perspective. I strongly suspect that human psychological and social characteristics will combine to make actually reaching a viable continent-scale renewable grid quite unlikely.
Green World is a wonderful outlet for overview and insight into our unsustainable, as it stands, energy grid in the States!
Or perhaps it will work the other way: your electricity will continue to rise in price, but the other kinds of services will become free or very low-cost. Independence is chief among the reasons for wanting an off-grid PV system where the grid is available. When weighing the energy options (between the grid and solar, wind or water sources) it becomes apparent that solar energy is a very democratic form of energy. Move over, fossil fuels—in many areas of the country, solar electricity is already economically competitive. So, in a sense, imagine if the Internet were to merge somehow with the dumb electricity grid we have.
In the massive blackout in 2003, when I sat in the dark for 25 hours in Manhattan, what happened was the people whose job it was to watch the power supply in the Midwest didn't know what was happening on their own grid system. It should have been because it exposed the extraordinary vulnerability we have as the world's richest economy with a Third World electricity grid. We know, and we have evidence, that hackers in the former Soviet Union and China have explicitly made targeting the grid as one of their objectives, along with other kinds of targets—environmental systems, for example, and water systems. You and I would be willing to pay more if we understood the benefits—reliability, environmental efficiency, and maybe even the enabling of distributed-power vehicles connecting to the grid. Then there’s the notion that the electrical grid can only accommodate a certain level of renewables, around 30-40%. But that merely shows that not only must the technical nature of the grid change, and it can; but so must its economic nature, and it can too. Large baseload nuclear and fossil fuel plants were built, usually far from the largest electricity consumers (cities and large industry), and transported by huge (and not particular efficient) power lines.
If more renewables are to be brought into the grid, the large baseload plants have to begin closing–even if they theoretically remain useful. When the variable sources aren’t generating what is needed, just release the stored, and cheaper, electricity they generated earlier during periods of low demand.
But in the real world, in the new world of the 21st century electricity grid, it may well be that electricity itself will not be as profitable to generators as it was in the 20th century.
Totally free electricity may be too much to hope for, there is a grid to pay for and maintain after all, and there will be for the foreseeable future.

Affecting 50 million North Americans, the blackout highlighted how vulnerable our outmoded electricity system has become.
But we haven't acted soon enough, we haven't acted forcefully enough, and we haven't acted with sufficient inventive and innovative capacity to upgrade the electricity grid.
If you can provide power through renewable energy in your house or a micro power plant, you're not putting a congestion charge on the grid, forcing the coal plant to send power to your house.
Smart grid technologies will enable a tremendous revolution to come, but only if we change regulations and change attitudes so that the people that invest get to see some of the financial returns on that investment. And the political will to transform the grid to accommodate the transformative technologies that have been developed over the past two decades. Energy efficiency is reducing demand and that, despite a growing population and even with economic growth, is a trend that will continue and probably accelerate (Maryland, for example, has set a new policy of reducing demand by 2% every year).  Renewables act to drive down electricity prices. The utility of the future may sell you electricity at the cost to produce it, but offer paid add-ons like smart systems that allow you to control electricity use in every part of your house, turn your lights on and off, turn your coffee machine on, etc (there are already smartphone apps that purport to do this, but my understanding is that they don’t work very well yet).
So there are a lot of things about the "dumb" electricity grid we have now that are not good enough for the 21st century. And the smart grid with real-time metering, dynamic pricing, and some of the other policies and technologies that go with it is the vital enabling step to getting towards a much smoother profile for electricity. So when you look at the assets that this industry has, if you look at how much we Americans pay for electricity every year and how we can't live without it, you suddenly begin to see that renewing and regenerating our very decrepit asset base of power lines and power plants is the natural cost of doing business anyway.
Germany is already showing that a grid with a high penetration of renewables can be reliable, and that forcing reactors to close can not only be publicly acceptable, it can attain wide public support. Certainly the idea that individual utilities, or even a consortium dominated by a single utility (a la Vogtle or Summer) will ever again build mega-billion dollar power plants of any kind just in order to sell electricity, is a relic of the 20th century playing out today as farce.
With a market like that, someone is going to deliver, even if the electricity itself is little more than a low-cost add-on to other services people want. Electricity derived from coal and natural gas will never be able to outweigh the energy and continual resources required to produce it. And if we do smart grid right, it will actually make us safer because we will have a more resilient system.
All I'm arguing for is with a little nudge from government in the right direction towards a smart grid, that that investment will come towards a smarter, more efficient, cleaner enabling platform, rather than just doing business as usual.
There are solar-powered floors in demonstration mode at a school in Indiana–as you walk on them, they generate electricity.
Unlike conventional energy sources, PV systems produce clean electricity for decades after achieving their energy payback in three or fewer years—this is truly the magic of PV technology. While many utilities sell electricity at affordable rates, inflation as well as energy price history and forecasts indicate price increases in our future, which will make RE systems’ payback even quicker. Historical data reported by the Edison Electric Institute shows that from 1929 to 2005, the average annual price increase for electricity has been 2.94% per year. That doesn’t change the electricity mix into your home, but it does mean your money, at least, is only going toward clean energy.

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