If demand on today's electrical grid looks like a rough landscape of high peaks and low valleys, demand on tomorrow's "smart grid" will look more like a series of rolling hills.
The electricity systems of developed countries are astoundingly capable of delivering massive amounts of electrons in a reliable way. But these complex ecosystems were designed to encourage consumption and to meet peak demand, making them bloated and inefficient.
Because grid systems were historically built around the mantra of “more,” there is a lot of excess capacity that sits unused until consumers push demand way up at certain times of the day or year.
Without the ability for utilities to actively communicate with customers during times of peak usage, it becomes difficult to manage demand and understand what's actually happening on the grid. Most of the time, the only option is to bring as much expensive reserve capacity online as possible and generate more power.
The smart grid can change that. The next-generation grid will be based on dealing with electrons on the informational level, not just on the atomic level.
With a better communications infrastructure, grid-operators, utilities and consumers could better manage demand in real time, thus smoothing out the peaks, reducing the strain on the system and creating a platform for distributed renewables to thrive.
But what will that communications infrastructure look like? What is the role of renewable energy? And how will we manage the myriad security and ethical issues that come such a radical increase in “energy data?”
Throughout the month of April on our Inside Renewable Energy podcast, we addressed those questions and took a detailed look at what the smart grid means for power producers and consumers along the electricity transmission, distribution and delivery system.
This month's four-part series offers two hours of in-depth interviews and commentary from the most cutting-edge, influential players in the smart grid space. If you've never had a chance to listen to the podcast, this is the perfect opportunity to tune in and get access to the most comprehensive audio news program on renewable energy.
The smart grid is getting a lot of attention from policymakers, businesses and reporters. But its overall role in the energy picture is often misunderstood. Listen to this series to get a realistic view of what the intelligent grid can offer society.
Part 1, “The Smart Grid Explained,” examines what what kind of objectives an intelligent electricity infrastructure should achieve. It's not just about technology — it's about finding the right applications for those technologies to flatten demand and make the system cleaner, more efficient and reliable.
Part 2, “How Will We Manage Demand on the Smart Grid?” digs deeper into how advanced meters will make the utility-customer relationship more dynamic while empowering consumers to make informed decisions about the use of electricity.
Part 3, “Storing Renewable Energy on the Smart Grid,” outlines a couple of mechanical and tertiary storage techniques that could enable renewables to play a much larger role in the energy mix.
Part 4, “Supply-Side Management and Security on the Smart Grid,” examines how utilities and grid operators may need to change business practices in order to accommodate storage technologies and higher penetrations of renewable energy. With the right technologies, business models and incentives, these players can become more comfortable with more renewables on the grid.
Most grids have operated the same way for nearly a century. Transforming these grids from centralized, analog-based machines into nimble, decentralized digital systems will have a wide-reaching impact on society and industry. The Inside Renewable Energy podcast offers a realistic vision of how and when that transformation will take place.
Everything you've ever wanted to know about the smart grid can be found on the Inside Renewable Energy podcast. Tune in to find out why over 60,000 people listen to the show each month.
The program is easy to listen to — you don't need any MP3 player or special software. Simply follow the link to each program and play the file on your computer from our website.
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