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The Smart Grid Debate

By Tracy Crawford
March 4, 2009
File under: Alternative Sources, Electric Sources, Energy Sources, Research and Development, Waste Reduction


There is a heated debate at the moment concerning the smart grid. Should there be a smart grid? Will it be effective?

And just what is a smart grid?

The smart grid will connect consumers to the power companies and give users more control over energy usage. This allows the power companies to better predict the amount of power needed by generators throughout any given day. Not only does this save in power usage, but saves the consumer, and the overall economy, lots of money.

The smart grid will also be able to distribute power from locations in other parts of the country to places with higher need. For example, folks in Madison, WI can get solar power from Las Vegas, NV.

But why the debate?

There are a few reasons why some people think the smart grid will not actually be very smart. Most notably – It won’t save as much energy as predicted.

Reasons include:

  • It’s impractical – giving the consumer knowledge of their energy use does not mean people will automatically conserve. And distributing energy use throughout the day to off-peak hours is also not practical because people don’t like being inconvenienced (maybe some people don’t need lower energy bills…).
  • Wind and sun can’t provide enough energy and wind farms blight the landscape.
  • Unpredictable energy sources – it’s hard to predict wind currents. For example, it’s hard to know if there will enough wind on any given day to provide for that day’s usage, or whether too much wind and not enough demand will cause a shut-down of turbines.
  • We should put our focus on nuclear energy instead (worth another blog entirely).
  • The federal government may have to mandate to individual states where to put power sources like wind farms.

Yet, there are those on the other site of the argument who think the smart grid is very smart indeed. These are people from companies that include industry giants like GE and Google, as well as from our own government.

What are the arguments for a smart grid?

  • It will help reduce power outages that currently cost billions of dollars.
  • The smart grid will connect to solar, wind and other renewable energy sources.
  • It will help create jobs and new companies creating innovative technology – VC funding pours into smart grid technologies
  • It will give consumers more control by sharing important information about when and where energy can be saved in the home or business – this helps lower our utility bills as well as conserve energy.
  • No more need for meter readers – saves money and fuel.

Looking at points from both sides of the debate, it’s hard to tell why some people are so opposed to the smart grid. Opposition seems to mostly come from those who either want our energy from nuclear power, or from those who feel power use will be controlled by the utilities, or worse, the government.

Looking at both arguments, it’s apparent that we really need a smart grid. President Obama wants renewable energy sources like the sun and wind to provide 10% of our power by 2012 (we’re currently at about 1%). We need an updated grid system to achieve this. Our current grid doesn’t have capacity to utilize renewable energy sources.

Without rebuilding our grid, we won’t be able to move forward with any new power initiatives and that would not be smart at all.

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