The electric grid of the United States is made up of generating units, transmission lines, substations and transformers that deliver electricity from power plants to your home or business. Our grid was devised in the 1890s and has been continually updated.
The primary challenge of our grid is its patchwork design. We’ve added capacity to meet demand though the grid needs to be more efficient, include better security measures and increase the flow of information about demand and available resources.
A “smart grid” does that through communication between the utility and its customers. Increased communication, better controls and automation will allow equipment on the grid to work together more efficiently. This should result in fewer disruptions.
Local power generation is one of the most exciting things about a smart grid. In many jurisdictions, property owners can now generate power on their property and sell the excess power to others on the grid. Methods of local generation include photovoltiac (solar) panels, natural gas microturbines, microhydro power turbines and windmills.
Though many properties still rely on electricity from the power company, we can supplement our needs with local generation. Some off-the-grid properties use batteries to store the energy they generate for future use so they don’t have to rely on a power company to meet their baseload demand..
Emerging technologies are often intended to make our lives more efficient or make better use of available resources yet they must be integrated into our daily lives to do so. While this often means changing behaviors, it also means updating our infrastructure and power grid. The electric car in the image is an excellent example.
If you visit the discussion board on the website for this vehicle, you’d notice that contractors often ask where they can find the requirements for the vehicle – What do we need to be building into our homes and businesses now to be ready for these products? Power companies are asking the same thing – What can we do now to anticipate new demand?
The smart grid is supposed to give us more control over our energy use. The idea is similar to online banking: through immediate updates, we’ll make better decisions about using our resources. For example, you might choose to run your washer and dryer at off-peak hours when the power is not as expensive. Better and more timely information will allow us to save money by changing our behavior.
If you’re building, renovating or anticipating emerging technologies, be sure to include some additional capacity. For example, it’s probably worth installing an extra, dedicated circuit or two for future technologies. It’s also important to leave enough capacity in your electrical box to accommodate updates. Your architect can help you through the process and plan for future opportunities.