Legacy electricity grids, the current distribution systems used for a century in the US, are highly inefficient. While we reasonably moan over electricity costs to our wallets and the environment, ironically, a great deal of that electricity, 7%, never makes it to the user, lost at the transmission and distribution levels. “Further, the cost of power outages and power quality disturbances is estimated at $180 billion annually in the United States alone,” reports Deloitte. On a global scale, grid inefficiency is profound at 33%.
The world suppliers can do better for us. The latest technology, smart grids or “SmartGrids”, provides a far more attractive 60% efficiency. How it works? “A smart grid delivers electricity from suppliers to consumers using digital technology to save energy, reduce cost and increase reliability,” explains Wikipedia.
My state, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, is theoretically on board. MA electricity providers responded to Governer Deval Patrick’s request for smart grid proposals. The Boston Globe’s interview with Stephen Connors, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Energy Initiative, explains the attraction. Environmentalists and others have been pushing for smart-grid technology for over a decade because it will enable consumers to use less electricity and benefit the environment. “Eventually, smart grids will also incorporate renewable energy – such as wind and solar power, and even electric cars – and feature software applications that reduce consumption during peak-demand times, as well as help power companies identify outages.” For example, the technology will note when you are not home and shut down nonessential components.
The two specific Massachusetts electricity service providers serving the highly populated eastern MA region have proposed the following pilot programs:
1. National Grid’s two-year pilot proposal installs approximately 15,000 meters that read energy consumption almost in real-time. “Customers could access the information via the Internet, by a thermostat readout, or through text messaging, and use the data to change their consumption patterns,” reports the Boston Globe. The cost of the program for the 1.3 million customers would be approximately $ 57 million dollars, which represents less than a dollar per month cost to customers, but an approximate savings of $70 dollars per year.
2. “NStar’s plan, meanwhile, calls for partnering with Tendril Networks Inc., a Colorado energy-efficiency company, to provide nearly 3,000 customers in Newton and Hopkinton [Boston area cities] with energy-consumption information – accessible on the Web – gathered from electricity meters every 15 seconds. Two-way communication between NStar and consumers will also allow the company to eventually ask customers to help reduce electricity consumption during peak-demand periods.”
Obviously, the application of smart grid technology is sustainable on several levels, so we can hope that it is adopted in MA and worldwide pronto. For faster progress, call or email your local legislator to encourage this positive corporate behavior.