As policy focus shifts toward greater dependence on clean energy sources such as solar and wind power, smart grid/metering technology will become increasingly necessary to manage the complex nature of an integrated power generation and delivery system. Mitigating the sporadic characteristics of solar and wind through peaking facilities, power grid upgrades, smart meters, smart appliances, enhanced building and lifestyle efficiencies, and an interconnected data stream are all necessary to balance load and generation, maximize system effectiveness, and result in smart grid technology as a standard. “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, and so it will be with smart grid. Policies with realistic costs and timeframes must be developed and consistently applied to realize this technology and reap the rewards.

Smart Grid technology offers economic, environmental, and domestic security advantages, including:

  • Improved reliability and quality of power delivery
  • Increased power distribution efficiency and conservation
  • Automated control of power generation based on current demand, resulting in reduced costs for both electric utilities and consumers
  • More effective integration of renewable and other emerging power generation technologies, including wind and solar
  • Lowering of greenhouse gas and other pollutants associated with power generation and delivery

Key to note within these advantages is the move towards sustainable energy generation. The current grid is not equipped to handle large amounts of wind or solar power, while the smart grid could be optimized via various analytics to operate with emerging technologies at a much higher and more efficient rate. These kinds of analytics are already being developed. For example, IBM Research has recently announced an advanced power-and weather-modeling technology that will help utilities increase the reliability of renewable energy resources. This solution combines weather prediction and analytics to accurately forecast the availability of wind and solar energy, enabling utilities to integrate more renewable energy into the power grid, which will help to reduce carbon emissions and improve clean energy output[1]. Utilities will be able to better manage the variable nature of wind and solar, and more accurately forecast the amount of power that can be redirected into the power grid or stored.

Despite advancement in the marketplace, smart grid deployment within the US is sporadic as it is driven by several forces; governmental, industrial, and private interests. The largest hindrances to deployment are a lack of standardization common to a primarily market-driven development process and lagging technological advances.
Cost is also an important factor. An estimate from the Electric Power Research Institute put the amount for the total modernization of the smart grid at $165 billion[2].

One indicator of progress was the establishment of the Federal Smart Grid Task Force in 2007[3]. Established under Title XIII of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA), the task force is comprised of experts from eleven Federal agencies, and led by the Department of Energy (specifically the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and the National Energy Technology Laboratory). In addition to the launch of this task force, since 2009 the Federal Government has awarded $4.5 billion in stimulus funds for pilot testing and smart grid investment[4] to laboratories in both state governments and the utility sector.

Within the private sector, the Demand Response and Advances Metering Coalition (DRAM), is an example of a group of utilities, metering and communications companies, and public interest groups who have been lobbying congress for tax incentives aimed at accelerating the installation of smart meters in homes and businesses nationwide[5].

As climate change becomes a policy-shaping factor, the smart grid, perhaps more than any other option may be a clear and reasonable long-term solution.