Smart Grid has big obstacles

The construction of the Smart Grid is seen by many as a daunting challenge.



The Los Angeles Times reports, "President Obama has made the smart grid a major plank of his 'rebuilding America' plan, viewing it as a way not only to eliminate blackouts and power failures, but also to create jobs and cut greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. A smart grid-a digital network enabling utilities, consumers and alternative sources of renewable energy to 'talk' to one another instantaneously-could steer electricity to where it is needed most." The stimulus package includes "$4.5 billion for smart-grid investments." But the Electric Power Research Institute "has estimated the cost of building a smart grid at a staggering $165 billion -- about $8 billion a year for two decades. And one of the biggest challenges in rolling out a smart grid, energy experts say, is getting hundreds of industries, from power generators to appliance and auto manufacturers, to agree on a set of standards-some already developed, many not ready yet."

NPR compared the plan, "with all of its obstacles and opportunities," to "the country's push for an interstate highway system 50 years ago." Said NPR: "Like the old road system faced by President Eisenhower, the current electric grid is a cobbled-together network of distinct regional webs. A major overhaul of that system has the potential to do what the interstate highway did so many years ago-modernize the American economy."

Referring to a 2003 "power failure originating in Ohio," which "coursed through the northeastern section of the electrical grid, sparking the nation's largest blackout ever and leaving millions in eight states without air conditioning, traffic lights, or cell phone service," the Baltimore Sun noted that "a 'smart grid' might have averted a shutdown that cost an estimated $6 billion." The Sun continued, "That new grid-a digital network allowing utilities, consumers and alternative sources of renewable energy to 'talk' to one another-could steer electricity to where it is needed most, avert cascading energy bottlenecks and promote power from alternative sources."

In its The Download column, the Washington Post profiles Current Group , a Maryland-based technology firm, which "has taken over a nondescript house in Bethesda and turned it into a laboratory for smart-grid technology, the system the company believes will bring the nation's electricity grids into the digital age." The Post notes, "In the front yard stands a utility pole hooked up to a special transformer that connects the power lines to high-speed Internet. Hundreds of sensors attached to the lines monitor how power flows through the home. That information is then sent back to the utility company." According to the firm, the process enables "a utility more efficiently manage the distribution of electricity by allowing two-way communication between consumers and energy suppliers via the broadband network on the power lines."

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