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Smart Grid…What’s the Big Deal?

If Thomas Edison were alive today, he would probably agree that not a whole lot has changed since his design of the electrical distribution system in America. As the pioneer behind electricity and electrical distribution, he would be disappointed that we have not made more progress in the evolution of electricity.

Many may wonder exactly how electricity is transmitted. Electricity is transmitted across a vast network of wires called the electrical grid. Power plants feed this electrical grid and allow for the production of power. Currently, electricity is bought and produced by the power plant with the least amount of cost associated with it regardless of where it is located. However, there is a price to transmit that power. Costs increase when electricity travels over greater distances due to resistance it encounters during the transmission.

Technology has changed over time giving us access to an abundance of information. Wouldn’t it be nice to know where and when we are using energy in this country? The electrical grid is about to embark on a major overhaul in the way we distribute electricity. We are about to make our electrical distribution system “smart,” thus enabling the re-routing of electricity to areas with greater demands for power.

The smart grid will communicate with power plants by raising or lowering outputs to match usage locally. It will also decipher which customers need more electricity and direct the proper amount to customers in real time. Plants will be able to produce power locally, thus reducing the costs associated with transmitting electricity over a long distance. This will allow for a more efficient electrical distribution system.

For example, if a group of buildings in Philadelphia requires a certain amount of electricity at 10:30am, the grid will have the capacity to anticipate the load adjustment and respond accordingly. This can also allow the customer to purchase its electricity more intelligently based on the time of day when they use the most electricity instead of having it available all the time.

Peak demand is a term used to define the highest energy usage of a facility at any given time. More power is consumed, potentially causing power plants to increase output beyond their optimum efficiency. Electric utilities will then charge more for the delivered electricity. This high cost of electricity is monitored by every facility manager in the country and should be avoided as it impacts their energy budgets.

The smart grid can help us understand how we consume energy so proper mechanisms can be put in place to adjust peak loads and conserve energy. Being smart about our energy consumption will allow us to keep energy usage and costs down.

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