Smart grid

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The smart grid is a system energy distribution that uses computer-based remote control and automation. It uses two way communication between houses and power stations, as well as sensors placed along transmission lines to better manage the flow of electricity in the grid.

The Need for a Smart Grid

The grid is the system of wires, power stations, and transformers that manages the flow of energy from power station to homes and businesses. [1] The framework for the current grid was built in the 1890’s, and while the technology of the grid has changed as advancements have been made through the years, much of the information power companies need to provide electricity to customers is still gathered as they were a century ago: with workers going on-site to look at meters and search for broken equipment. Also, in the current system, the only way a utility company knows about a power outage is if a customer calls the company to report the problem. [2] The goal of the smart grid is to use technology to create a system where sensors can collect data about equipment failures, power usage, power outages, and more, then send that information to power companies so they an keep the grid running smoothly. [3]

Smart Grid Basics

The plans to use smart technologies and computerization of the grid to help manage the flow of electricity smoothly have a number of possible benefits, including increased efficiently of electricity transmission, shorter power outages, reduced utility costs and electricity rates, and greater integration of renewable energy systems. [4]

The functions of a smart grid
  • Since computer have faster reaction times than humans, adding sensors and giving computers control of electric transmission lines should allow electricity to flow from its sources to where it is needed with greater efficiency. It could also help prevent blackouts. The lack of control that grid operators have over the system can cause power oscillations in the grid that can cause blackouts.
  • The higher precision of the smart grid would minimize these oscillations and prevent many widespread blackouts. [5] When a power outage does occur, the smart grid will be able to help shorten the duration of the blackout by automatically rerouting power where possible, quickly notifying companies of any damage, and isolating damage from the rest of the grid to prevent a domino effect that would cause even more widespread problems. [6] One way a smart grid could deal with problems is through microgrids. A microgrid is a “localized [grid] that can disconnect from the traditional grid to operate autonomously and help mitigate grid disturbances to strengthen grid resilience” (U.S. Department of Energy) [7]
  • A major way that a smart grid would be able to lower electric prices is through real-time pricing. Instead of seeing a monthly statement, customers would be able to see electric prices at that moment at any time. This would allow them to reduce their energy consumption when prices rise, usually during peak consumption hours, and use more energy when prices are low.
  • The smart grid would also allow for better integration of renewable energy sources. Many renewable energy sources do not generate a steady stream of energy as conventional energy does: clouds block the suns rays and wind dies down periodically. Using a smart grid would mean that if the wind farm powering a nearby city stops working because the wind died down, energy could be automatically rerouted from further away and non-essential appliances temporarily shut off until the wind starts up again. This kind of automatic fail-safe and the energy storage systems planned for the smart grid would allow for renewable energy to be integrated easily into the energy sector.

Smart Grid Research

Although scientists and policy makers are working towards a fully operational smart grid, a lot of research and technology integration still needs to occur. In 2013, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) opened an Energy Systems Integration Facility (ESIF) in Colorado to research and test electrical grid systems. Since utility companies prefer not to experiment with the electric grid while simultaneously trying to deliver power to customers, ESIF experiments with a virtual grid to work out potential problems in safety. Currently, ESIF is experimenting with solar-power integration. Hopefully, the experiments will provide ways for places like Hawaii, who have so many solar panels and so much sun that during hours with intense sunlight the amount of energy flowing into the grid threatens to destabilize it and cause blackouts. [8]


  1. What is the Smart Grid? (n.d.). Retrieved July 20, 2015, from
  2. What is Distribution Intelligence. (n.d.). Retrieved July 22, 2015, from
  3. Smart Grid | Department of Energy. (n.d.). Retrieved July 20, 2015, from
  4. What is the Smart Grid? (n.d.). Retrieved July 20, 2015, from
  5. What are Grid Operation Centers. (n.d.). Retrieved July 22, 2015, from
  6. What is the Smart Grid? (n.d.). Retrieved July 20, 2015, from
  7. The Role of Microgrids in Helping to Advance the Nation’s Energy System | Department of Energy. (n.d.). Retrieved July 21, 2015, from
  8. Breaking a Fake Power Grid to Save the Real One. (n.d.). Retrieved July 21, 2015, from

External links

  • What is the smart grid? - an introductory video (1:11 min) helpful to all audiences (middle school through general population), from the The Department of Energy's Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability (OE)
  • The Encyclopedia of Earth - smart grid