Smart Grid – what is it?

3 Jan 2012

There has been a lot of talk about upgrading our grid to a “smart” grid to improve energy (and therefore environmental) efficiency.  Many of the technologies on the grid are antiquated, and can be up to 50 years old. So, what is a “smart grid” and why don’t we already have one?

In a “smart grid,” everyone on the grid system (from electric generators to transmitters  and distributors to consumers) communicate and work with each other.

A key feature of a smart grid system is the use of advanced technologies that provide participants with relevant, real-time information. These technologies allow generators, system managers, and customers to receive instantaneous information on electricity needs and prices, and to work together to meet electricity needs in the most efficient way possible.  A “smart grid” is likely to have at least three components that the current grid doesn’t have:

  • Sensors so that power quality is being measure in real time
  • Communications that relay data coming from the sensors back to utility operators for them to evaluate and make decisions
  • Controls that allow changes in the operation of the system

In most cases, the utilities still don’t know about a power outage until they get a call from a customer. As utilities put smarter technologies onto the grid, energy savings should be achieved as the grid communicates with homes’ energy management systems so each home can work with a utility to manage power needs.  As a consumer, you will likely be able to know when the power is cheapest and have a plan with the utility that tailors your power consumption accordingly.  The closest thing we have now, is interruptable air conditioning.

The smart grid will become even more important as more and more alternative energies are brought on line such as solar, wind, geothermal and others which will be less consistent than the old standby, coal.  It will take more management to ensure the continued reliability and consistency of our energy system when there are far more, smaller, intermittent generators than there are right now.

In Southeast Michigan, DTE is involved in an electric storage test project in Ann Arbor and is spending Millions of Dollars of Federal stimulus funding on projects such as:

  • deploying a large-scale network of 660,000 smart meters;
  • implementing a Smart Home program which will provide customer benefits such as dynamic pricing and smart appliances; and
  • circuit upgrades, information systems and other improvements.


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