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A Smarter Electrical Grid

Much like a smartphone has a computer built in, a smart grid has everything associated with the electrical network computerized.

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Even a thunderstorm is often enough to knock out electrical power in some places. And a major storm is much worse. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy knocked out the lights for 8.5 million people on the East Coast, and a month after the storm, roughly 36,000 people in New York and New Jersey still were without electricity [source: Scott].

But the problem of storm-related power outages could be lessened if utility companies replaced the present antiquated electrical transmission system with "smart" grids, equipped with a vast array of computerized sensing and control devices to monitor power demand and system performance to distribute electricity more efficiently. The "grid" refers to the electrical wires, substations and transformers that help generate electricity, and much like a smartphone has a computer built in, a smart grid has everything associated with the electrical network computerized with two-way digital technology [source: Dept. of Energy]. Instead of relying exclusively upon central power plants and transmission lines, smart grids can also tap into local sources of electricity, such as solar panels and wind turbines.

Because of their sensing abilities, smart grids enable utility companies to spot and repair damage after storms more quickly. They also allow decentralized storage and power generation, so that local neighborhoods cut off from the main lines can still have some access to electricity. Several cities and states in the U.S. are already implementing smart grids or seeking funding to do so [source: Hardesty, Kingsbury].

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