DOE Report Says Smart Grid Can Cut US Emissions by 12% (Video)

PNNL carbon emissions image

Screenshot via PNNL YouTube video

A new report from the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory entitled The Smart Grid: An Estimation of the Energy and CO2 Benefits has determined that the smart grid could cut carbon emissions by 12%, and could cut energy consumption by an equivalent amount. Looking at the direct mechanisms - including smart grid-enabled diagnostics for buildings and providing consumers a way to see and manage their energy usage - as well as indirect mechanisms - including the smart grid making it easier to incorporate renewable energy into the power grid - the report has figured that the smart grid could be capable of saving the equivalent of 66 coal-fired power plants by 2030. But there's a big key word - "if."Smart Meters reports, "The report illustrates how a smart grid can reduce carbon emissions and shows how different smart technologies could also reduce the amount of energy demanded at the same time...Pratt's team analyzed nine ways that smart grid technology could reduce carbon emissions within the report. They also provided recommendations and areas that should be researched in each of the nine methods if the United States is to dramatically reduce emissions and usage by 2030."

But what happened to the estimate put out well over a year ago by The Climate Group, which stated the smart grid could cut emissions by 15% by 2020? Meanwhile, IBM stated just over three months ago that the smart grid could mean at least 15% reduction in energy use. PNNL didn't ignore The Climate Group's research in their study, taking that information into account in their own report, though apparently their estimates are slightly more conservative.

Despite the disparity in percentages, the primary issue is the "if" part of the reports. IF the smart grid were fully realized in the US, we could save roughly 442 million metric tons of carbon emissions, equivalent to closing 66 coal-fired power plants. Or at least some amount in that range.

While exact savings are just estimates, we do know with confidence that the smart grid will save on both emissions and energy, and cutting down on both wherever possible is vital at this point. Even so, the smart grid is very slow to appear. Everything from concerns over information safety, to how secure the grid itself will be, to getting more major businesses on board and pushing forward with standards, and getting government funding for more smart grid research and projects, all stand as challenges to seeing the smart grid deployed nation-wide.

The Direct and Indirect Benefits Of The Smart Grid

"The importance of the direct and indirect reduction mechanisms is in their combined effect on reducing carbon emissions," said Pratt. "Some mechanisms proved insignificant, and the larger ones each appear capable of providing about a 3 percent reduction. In combination, they could reduce the electric grid's carbon footprint by a very substantial 12 percent or more."

According to PNNL, the estimates assume full deployment of a smart grid, or virtually 100% adoption of smart grid technologies. "A basic perspective of PNNL's analysis is that, during the next 20 years, smart grid technology will become pervasive in the U.S. because of the cost efficiencies and reliability improvements it provides for the electric power system. Clearly, once purchased, this same infrastructure can be leveraged to provide the additional benefits identified in this report with little, if any, marginal cost."

So, IF we have a fully deployed smart grid, it could save 12-15% on carbon emissions. We just have to hurry and change that "if."

Catch the full report at PNNL
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