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Are Smart Grids the Wave of the Future?

For years now, economists and environmentalists have been questioning the traditional transmission system used to collect and distribute electric power. Given world overdependence on oil, compounded by the large amount of energy waste associated with current electric system, the creation of a smart power grid is being touted as the next big thing. Want to conserve energy and save money? Think Smart Grid!

That said, here is the simple description of the traditional energy grid. The traditional grid transmits voltages of electricity through cable wires (overhead and underground) from beginning to its destination. After the power gets near its destination, the voltage is then decreased, which is a needed safety measure to make the energy safe to enter our home or office buildings.Therein lies the problem. Increasing and decreasing voltage requires more power, hence more money coming out of consumer pockets.

Enter the smart power grid. A smart grid compelling feature to consumers would be its ability to control and regulate the electric power usage, which in turn will help users conserve energy and save money. While the process is quite complex (much like the traditional grid), the concept is simple. The concept of a smart grid is to create a system that allows electricity to move to its destinations in a more efficient and cost-effective way. We can not underestimate that smart grids require sophisticated communication capabilities to help consumers make the adjustments needed to save on peak energy consumption while saving money.

Essentially, while the traditional power grid requires that electricity flow over long distances, a smart grid reduces that requirement. A smart grid will have the capability to deliver electricity closer to consumers directly from the points of generation. This reduces the need to have to increase and decrease the voltage multiple times before it enters our homes or offices. That alone saves money and energy.

Smart grids can also adjust to current weather conditions, thereby reducing costly blackouts. Also, if a natural disaster were to strike, a smart grid would be better able to ensure that the electricity will stay on, even in the midst of trauma. This can save people, including lives, from some of the problems that a power outage causes.

Smart grids will also allow for energy to be recharged and reused. For example, new technology has been created that allows for plug-in vehicles to help return power to a smart grid, at peak demand times. This causes peak demand energy to be better managed by charging the vehicles during low demand periods.

In addition, smart grids are expected to ease the wear and tear on current power systems. The voltage changes and the high expectations described earlier create major stress on traditional grids.

As you might imagine, smart grids will be expensive to get up and running. But once installed, they are expected to be more cost effective than the traditional grid. As concerns grow regarding reliability of the current power system, environmentalists and advocates believe smart grids will gain in popularity and become more widespread. In particular, as more utilities move to time of service pricing (think air conditioning in the middle of the afternoon costing more than at night) where the cost of power varies depending on the time it is used), consumers will be even more motivated to monitor their energy requirements.

Moving to a greener world will require expensive transmission lines for permitting process and other costly solutions on an aging electric transmission infrastructure to solve some of the issues noted earlier. And the time has come to address our overtaxed power grid as it exists today. Businesses and consumers must begin planning NOW for a greener economy. The winners will be those who bite the bullet earlier than later.

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