6 Trends Shaping The Smart Grid


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The smart grid is a complicated beast. While the concept is simple enough -- make the energy grid intelligent so that we use electricity in the most efficient manner possible -- the implementation is mind-numbingly intricate. That's why progress is steady but slow, from developing technology to standards to systems. GigaOm Pro has a new report detailing six areas that are important for the growth of the new grid, including improvements in home energy management, carbon management and electric vehicle technologies. The report, titled Smart Grid Apps: Six Trends That Will Shape Grid Evolution (subscription required) lines out six of the major application trends that are set to shape how the smart grid plays out in the next few years. Here's a run-down:

Automating the distribution of electricity from substations to consumers -- including the technologies that will sense, report, and control the distribution -- is a major piece of the puzzle. Automation also includes allowing smaller power sources, such as small scale renewable energy projects or solar array on individual buildings and homes can be more effectively used by the grid. Distribution automation can reduce the costs of monitoring and operating the systems, and will increase reliability. Possibly more importantly, automation can help reduce energy consumption and system losses, and that means lower energy bills overall.

Data analytics is definitely key as well. Companies coming up with ways to collect, and more importantly sort out, understand, and report the massive amounts of information tracked about the electricity grid, all have a vast opportunity to stake a claim in the smart grid scene and shape how we understand the information coming in. It's one thing to monitor data, it's another thing to make it meaningful. As the report states, "Whatever the obstacles, utilities will need to avoid being very data rich but very information poor. Thus, data analytics will play a major role from the very beginning of smart grid deployments."

Demand response
is the part of the smart grid that connects consumers to their energy use through real-time pricing, intelligent appliances that turn on when rates are lowest, and so on. The report points out that currently, this area is highly fragmented and there's opportunities for companies that can make larger energy efficiency projects make sense, for example moving beyond tools for individual homes and buildings and into tools that can be used by entire communities.

Carbon management is of course part of the puzzle, though it often gets overlooked in favor of more tangible technologies like smart meters and energy dashboards. However, cutting carbon is of course a primary goal of an efficient grid, and we need technologies that help us measure and monitor carbon emissions. "Carbon management will continue to be slotted into a holistic energy efficiency solution, much the same way that DR [demand response] will be offered as an energy management application... Carbon management software will be one of the services that IT and energy management companies will slot into their overall energy services offering."

Home energy management is part of the grid that we might be most familiar with, since companies like Google, Microsoft, Cisco, GE and many, many, many, many others are hopping on board to provide us with tools to track our individual energy use. But energy dashboards don't exactly seem to be getting picked up by consumers -- we recently discussed how companies thought there would be a lot more interest for tools like Microsoft's Hohm than there has proven to be. Still, the report notes that with the proliferation of smart appliances and electric vehicles, tools for home energy management will continue to be a major factor in how the smart grid is shaped.

And finally, electric vehicles are of course a huge player in smart grid technologies. In fact, at the recent Green:Net conference in San Francisco, CA, it was pointed out that electric vehicles could be what finally push the smart grid into mainstream consciousness, since having thousands, even millions of vehicles plugged in and pulling juice from utilities is no small issue. As electric vehicles roll out to homes across the nation, we have to figure out how to charge them all without breaking the bank or causing brown outs.

"The bulk energy consumption of EVs is also the greatest potential benefit (and threat) to utilities. While utilities can generally set their own schedules for smart grid deployments, power-hungry EVs are arriving now, which is prompting many power providers to establish or escalate their smart grid plans."

The full report is available on GigaOm Pro.

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Tags: Energy Efficiency | Technology | Utilities

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