Connected and Sustainable Energy
Energy, especially electricity, drives the world economy. It lights our homes, powers our factories, runs our technology, and could soon fuel our vehicles. Electric power, however, is facing major challenges. Demand for electricity will likely exceed available supply over the next 25 years. Electricity creates more greenhouse gases than any other source, including transportation, manufacturing, and agriculture. Aged equipment used to produce and distribute electricity suffers from years of underinvestment. The result is an inefficient electricity generation and distribution system that converts only one-third of the total energy it consumes into useful electricity. That equals 1.5 billion metric tons of CO2 emissions wasted during the production and delivery of electricity in the United States each year-equal to 250 million automobiles-not to mention the subsequent waste in how we consume electricity once it reaches our homes, offices, schools, and factories.
Recognizing these inefficiencies, the energy community is starting to marry information and communications technology (ICT) with renewable energy to improve how electric power is generated, delivered, and consumed. Technology allows the electric grid to become "smart." Near-real-time information enables utilities to manage the entire electricity grid as an integrated system-actively sensing and responding to changes in power demand, supply, costs, and emissions across the grid. Also, better information lets consumers manage their own energy use more effectively. As former U.S. Vice President Al Gore has pointed out, "Just as a robust information economy was triggered by the introduction of the Internet, a dynamic, new, renewable energy economy can be stimulated by the development of an electranet or Smart Grid."
The main principles of a Smart Grid include:
Demand Management: Reducing electricity consumption in homes, offices, and factories. Demand Management includes:
- Demand Response: During emergency periods of peak energy usage, utility companies send electronic messages to alert consumers about reducing their energy consumption by turning off (or turning down) unessential appliances.
- Smart Meters and Variable Pricing: In many areas, electricity prices rise and fall based on demand at that moment. "Smart meters" let consumers shift energy consumption from high-priced periods to low-priced periods (load shifting and shedding).
- Smart Buildings with Smart Appliances: Traditional, stand-alone building control systems are now converging onto a common ICT infrastructure that allows appliances (heating, ventilation, air conditioning, lighting, and so forth) to "talk" to each other, coordinating their actions and reducing waste.
- Energy Dashboards: Online energy dashboards provide real-time visibility into energy usage while suggesting ways to reduce consumption.
Distributed Energy Generation: Encouraging homes and businesses to install their own renewable energy sources. Distributed Energy Generation includes:
- "Microgeneration": Some homes and offices generate their own electricity locally using small equipment (wind generators, photovoltaics, fossil-fuel generators with heat reclamation). Many of these devices are now as affordable as energy from utilities, and produce 50 percent less greenhouse gases.
- Storage and Hybrid Electric Vehicles: Owners of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) can buy energy when it is inexpensive, store it in batteries, and sell it back to the grid when the price goes up. PHEV drivers hope to arbitrage the cost of power, while utilities see fleets of PHEVs supplying power to reduce peaks in demand.
Supply-side Efficiency: Using IT to improve control of the electric distribution grid. Supply-side Efficiency includes:
- Grid Monitoring and Control: Utilities are installing sensors to monitor and control the grid in near real time to detect faults earlier and provide time to prevent blackouts.
- Grid Security and Surveillance: Utilities are installing surveillance sensors to monitor and secure unmanned, remote equipment that is vulnerable to terrorism.