GE unveiled itsyoursmartgrid.com, an interactive and informative Web site designed to educate consumers about the holistic benefits of a smarter grid. This announcement comes the first day of GridWeek, the premier smart grid conference being held in Washington, D.C., next week, where policymakers, utility executives, academics and industry leaders will gather to discuss the broad implications and benefits of a smarter grid.
At a time when Washington’s decision makers are determining the best use of stimulus dollars, when utilities are brainstorming how to best educate consumers and when Americans are questioning what all this "buzz" is about, the material on itsyoursmartgrid.com has never been more timely.
"The smart grid can give us new choices and control over our energy usage and costs," said Anthony Star, director of policy and evaluation at CNT Energy, a leader in demonstrating the value of dynamic electricity pricing. "Therefore, consumers will need to be at the front and center of smart grid innovation in order to realize its full potential. The easily understood, educational content on itsyoursmartgrid.com provides information in a simple, straight-forward manner that I’ve yet to find elsewhere on the Web."
The Web site delivers an end-to-end view of the smart grid in everyday language. The site explains why we need to change the way we deliver and use power-to improve efficiency and productivity, to optimize the integration of cleaner energy resources and electric vehicles and to empower consumers to manage usage and save money, while improving our nation’s energy independence and economic competitiveness. It also outlines what will be different in the ways the smart grid enables us to receive, use and pay for electricity.
"Quite frankly, most people don’t know very much about the traditional power grid, so talking about the smart grid adds a layer of complexity," said Bob Gilligan, vice president, transmission and distribution at GE Energy. "But there’s a big difference and a big need to better understand the benefits of a smart grid. Unlike the grid of the past 100 years, the smart grid gives consumers an active role in choosing how they use and pay for electricity. It helps us integrate more clean energy. It helps us to become more efficient and productive as a society, and it will ultimately improve our competitiveness and energy independence. So we created Itsyoursmartgrid.com to help consumers understand these far-reaching benefits."
Itsyoursmartgrid.com is all about learning and understanding, offering educational resources ranging from videos to a regularly updated blog. Site visitors can expect to be educated entertained and enlightened about the smart grid and how it will help us continue to power our lives comfortably and reliably for decades to come.
Schools and civic organizations can use Itsyoursmartgrid.com as a valuable teaching tool to help change our energy habits for the new realities of a growing, ever-more-energy-hungry world.
Through industry collaborations, GE will deliver one of the broadest portfolio offerings in the industry to modernize the electrical systems from the power plant to the consumer. From smarter appliances to technologies for plug-in hybrid vehicles, to providing renewable technologies and smart meters, GE has the breadth and knowledge needed to increase energy productivity all the way up and down the lines.
What is the smart grid?
The smart grid marries information technology with our current electrical infrastructure, helping us support the energy needs of our 21st Century society. The smart grid is, in essence, an “energy Internet,” delivering real-time energy information and knowledge—empowering smarter energy choices.
Considering the energy challenges we currently face, we must find a way to do more with less—and quickly. This is the role for a smarter grid, which:
* Enables the integration and optimization of more renewable energy (such as wind and solar) and plug-in electric vehicles.
* Drives significant increases in the efficiency of our network.
* Empowers consumers to manage their energy usage and save money without compromising their lifestyle.
Smart grid technologies provide utilities and consumers with real-time knowledge and decision-making tools that will empower them to save energy, resources, money, and the environment. The smart grid is not a product, but rather a collection of hardware and software that works together to make today’s grid, well, smarter.
Think about how you used computers before the Internet. They were useful, yes, but isolated. With the growth of the Internet, all the computers in the world could be easily linked, allowing for better communication, information sharing, and data transfer. The Internet turned a regular computer into a much more powerful tool.
The same is true of the smart grid. Overlaying the current power infrastructure with smart grid technology is like connecting the Internet to the computer, making an already useful machine much better and providing people with information to make intelligent decisions. Similarly, the smart grid, or the “energy Internet”, empowers consumers, businesses and utilities to make smarter energy choices.
Key Components of Smart Grid
The smart grid will include automation software and intelligent electronic hardware systems that control the transmission and distribution grids. Smart grid automation technologies — such as energy management systems and distribution management systems — help provide real-time knowledge and control over the distribution and transmission grids.
Most utilities today operate with a relatively smart transmission grid enabled by Energy Management Systems (EMS), which provide real-time information on the grid’s status, helping utilities automate various grid functionalities remotely. This automation technology helps utilities:
* Choose the best, most affordable generation mix (known as economic dispatch), keeping costs lower for consumers and businesses.
* Reduce losses and waste in the delivery of power to drive a more efficient system.
* Maintain system reliability to help ensure a steady supply of power to customers
Very few utilities in North America have a Distribution Management System (DMS), the smart grid automation technology that provides them with real-time information about the distribution network and allows utilities to remotely control switches in the grid.
The DMS is the heart of a smarter distribution grid, enabling utilities to manage distributed renewable generation, support grid efficiency technologies, and control the isolation and restoration of outages. Without DMS, the utility gets very little real-time information about the distribution grid and can’t realize many of the benefits of a smarter grid.
Bringing More Renewables Online
Renewable energy resources, like wind power and solar energy, are abundant, homegrown, and emissions-free and have the potential to help lead the nation toward energy independence.
Unfortunately, today’s infrastructure is unable to maximize the benefits of significantly more renewable resources. Wind and solar resources are connected to the grid as "one-off" solutions that are generally not integrated with other generation nor optimized as a reliable first-tier energy source.
Additionally, when renewable resources are producing electricity, the possibility of congestion on transmission lines can create a barrier to their full utilization. The variability of renewable sources can also cause challenges. And when renewables are offline—when the wind doesn’t blow or it’s a cloudy day— other power generation will be needed to fill in the gaps.
Without infrastructure expansion and changes to the way the power system is operated, it will be difficult for the U.S. to produce more than 30% of its electricity (the target percentage for many states) from variable renewable energy resources, such as wind power and solar.
The Variability of Renewable Power
Wind and solar power are inherently variable, meaning sometimes the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine. Then what? Fortunately, smart grid technologies can help manage the unpredictability of wind and solar to help alleviate reliability and stability issues caused by power fluctuations. This will become increasingly important as more wind and solar power is connected to the grid.
Automated demand response technologies will act as a lever that utilities can pull to help lower demand in the event there is a gap in renewable power generation—for instance, if the wind stops blowing. To address such contingencies, a utility may incent consumers to opt into programs that allow certain devices (i.e., water heaters) to be temporarily switched off during peak times.
In the future, storage technologies could also help utilities manage the short-term imbalances in the supply and demand of energy, sometimes caused by the fluctuations of a lot of renewable energy. Batteries will store energy during times of excess wind energy production and discharge that energy via smart grid automation technologies when energy demand exceeds supply.
In some parts of the country, overburdened power lines make it difficult to move electricity from wind farms into the grid for consumption. There have been cases when wind farms are forced to shut down—even when the wind is blowing—because there is no capacity available in the lines for the electricity they create.
Without adequate transmission to transport power from "renewable" rich areas (like Arizona) to densely populated areas, it is only cost effective to use renewable sources in certain areas of the country—at least for now.
While building new infrastructure would certainly help, smart grid technologies can also help utilities alleviate grid congestion and maximize the potential of our current infrastructure. Smart grid technologies can help provide real-time readings of the power line, enabling utilities to maximize flow through those lines and help alleviate congestion.
As smart grid technologies become more widespread, the electrical grid will be made more efficient, helping reduce issues of congestion. Sensors and controls will help intelligently reroute power to other lines when necessary, accommodating energy from renewable sources, so that power can be transported greater distances, exactly where it’s needed.
Traditionally, electricity has flowed one way, from a power station to a customer. However, as more energy is generated by alternative sources, power will be entering the network from multiple locations, including the distribution network (i.e., distributed generation). These sources are often cleaner or more efficient; for example, combined heat and power plants (CHP) are more than 75% efficient, compared to traditional generation, which is only 49% efficient on average.
Unfortunately, the current grid was not designed with multi-directional power flow in mind. Two-way power flow, sophisticated controls, and grid automation technologies can help bring wind, solar and other alternative energy solutions safely into the distribution grid and move it where it’s needed, when it’s needed.
In some regions, individuals can contribute to energy production on the distribution grid by generating electricity at their home—for example, solar on rooftops. Where available, enhanced net-metering incents consumers to sell power back to the grid during peak pricing hours—so, consumers make money, and utilities are able to better manage peak demand. Whole neighborhoods could become solar or wind generation plants, introducing excess power back into the grid to meet demand.
Unleashing a world of possibilities
Plug-in electric vehicles unleash a world of possibilities, reducing our fuel costs, lowering our dependence on foreign oil, and cutting green house gas emissions.
What Are Electric Vehicles?
A pure electric vehicle is a car that relies entirely on electricity stored in its battery for its power. While this type of car has the smallest environmental impact in terms of petroleum usage, it currently is not the most feasible option due to its limited range. Recently, another solution has emerged, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs).
Plug-in hybrids run primarily on battery power but also have a tank of gasoline for long trips. These vehicles differ from the typical hybrids currently available in that they have more battery energy, and these batteries are charged through a typical wall outlet.
Eventually, plug-in hybrids will be able travel from 40 to 60 miles on a full charge using battery power alone.1 The engine will only turn on once the battery charge has been depleted.
Reduced Petroleum Usage and Operating Costs
The battery storage within these electric vehicles can be charged from a typical electrical outlet, reducing the need for petroleum. In fact, switching to plug-in vehicles could reduce U.S. oil importation by 52%.2 If we use less oil, we can decrease carbon emissions, promote energy independence, and save money.
Also, plug-in vehicles can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 27% when comparing emissions of gasoline-powered vehicles to plug-in vehicles charged by electricity from the current generation mix—coal, natural gas, nuclear, and renewable power.3
The good news for consumers? While the costs of maintenance for these vehicles will remain about the same (suspension, tires, wipers, etc.), electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids are estimated to run at a third of the cost of typical gas-powered cars4, and there are substantial tax incentives to make the initial investment worthwhile.
What Are The Challenges?
Our current grid is not equipped to handle these vehicles on a large scale. If everyone plugged in at the same time, the current grid could not provide electricity to charge all the electric vehicles on the grid, and power reliability would be compromised. Also, if owners plugged their vehicles into public outlets, utilities would not know how to bill the correct consumers without advanced technology.
However, with smart grid technologies, these plug-in electric vehicles will not only be possible, but preferable. With real-time pricing and increased knowledge, consumers can make better decisions about when to use energy, especially when charging plug-in vehicles. In fact, they will be motivated to charge up their vehicles when electricity prices are cheaper, during off-peak hours. Smart grid technologies could help automatically take care of the recharge process once the consumer preferences have been set, much like a computer automatically runs back-ups and retrieves your e-mail messages.
With the right infrastructure in place, smart-grid technologies will help ensure that the right vehicle account is billed for vehicle charging, much like cell phone users are appropriately billed even while roaming out of their own service network.
About GE Energy
GE Energy (www.ge.com/energy) is one of the world’s leading suppliers of power generation and energy delivery technologies, with 2008 revenue of $29.3 billion. Based in Atlanta, Georgia, GE Energy works in all areas of the energy industry including coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear energy; renewable resources such as water, wind, solar and biogas; and other alternative fuels. Numerous GE Energy products are certified under ecomagination, GE’s corporate-wide initiative to aggressively bring to market new technologies that will help customers meet pressing environmental challenges. www.itsyoursmartgrid.com/ www.ge.com/energy