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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Smart Grid: a primer

So far I've been to one Smart Grid event and read only a few articles that were at all useful. All of the best stuff has been from the IEEE Power and Energy Society, which not surprisingly has a major emphasis on educating society about plans for a 21st century distribution system.

For those not up to speed, there is a good primer in the IEEE December newsletter, The Institute, which I get as an IEEE member. (At the end of the semester I get behind on my mail and journals, so I just caught up today.)

Here are a couple of opening paragraphs from the article:
The electricity grid is made up of four main components: generation, transmission, distribution, and customers. Generation refers to the production of electricity from sources of energy, such as coal and natural gas. The transmission system carries the electric power from the generators over long distances to a distribution system, which brings the power to the customers. Distribution systems can include power stations of their own.

Developing countries often have antiquated systems. But even more modern systems, which in a developed country such as the United States can be 50 years old or more, are typically inefficient, unreliable, polluting, incompatible with renewable energy sources, and vulnerable to cyberattack.
It’s a little rah-rah on the technology, but then what do you expect from a bunch of engineers? At least — unlike GE or PG&E or SDG&E — it’s not peddling a specific product or service.

The Department of Energy has a website and a 2008 report that seem even more rah-rah. The latter is a propaganda piece worthy of a political campaign (or lobbying for increased appropriations) rather than a textbook or scientific article.

Still, the smart grid issues are essential for instituting distributed generation with unpredictable interruptions such as residential rooftop solar and small scale wind. So even if smart grid is not an RE fight, it’s one that RE depends on.

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