America's Smart Future
Smartgrid was the "buzz term" of 2009 for the US power and energy industry and 2010 looks set to be no different.
Upgrading America's electrical distribution system will allow it to accommodate more renewable and intermittent sources of energy. The goal is to build a grid that is smart enough to store and transmit more variable sources of energy for the times when the sun doesn't shine or wind doesn't blow.
By combining high-speed broadband internet with the electrical grid, utilities and providers will be able to send information to buildings and vise-verse, thus allowing buildings to control the amounts of energy the use making the entire system way more efficient.
This means developing smart appliances that can communicate with the grid, which in turn means developing the technology that can support these demanding smartgrid applications.
Monitoring energy consumption
In what was seen as a significant breakthrough for the industry last month saw the launch of IBM's POWER7. IBM have built POWER7 around the venerable UNIX platform and includes the latest advancements in virtualization technology and other efficiencies.
Smart grid deployments require a constant stream of data to allow for the most efficient transmission of electric power in real time at the utility end. Customers must also be provided with information in real time that allows them to monitor their energy consumption and make informed decisions based upon the current price of energy for a smart grid deployment to be successful.
POWER7 makes this whole process much easier as it is able to handle, process, analyze and present enormous volumes of data.
Another breakthrough came from ComEd, who have launched a year-long project that is the largest of its kind in the United States that is designed to study how consumers change their behavior according to pricing signals. Distributed solar energy - available from solar panels installed at 100 homes - will be made available that will turn the homes into "mini utilities" that act as power generators, as reported by Smartmeters.com.
$100 billion to $2 trillion
However, the steps forward in smartgrid technology are being countered by gathering concerns. People are worried about the enormous cost associated with smartening up America's electrical grid, but as yet there aren't many estimates of what it would cost, but the estimates that do exist can range from $100 billion to $2 trillion.
Pacific Gas & Electric alone has already spent $2.2 billion installing 4.6 million smart meters, and the supporting infrastructure, in financially unstable California.
People are worried because it's often the case that when so much money is spent on one government policy, another misses out.
There have also been whispers of smart meters running "too fast". In Texas consumers have complained that their electricity bills have actually increased since seeing the installation of smart meter, with some reported to have doubled or even tripled in cost. The Texas Public Utility Commission has agreed to investigate.
But smart meters are in their early generations and the very, very few that may give incorrect readings will soon be phased out by improved technology. It's early days and teething problems are to be expected, however with so much public cash being pumped into the smartgrid consumers will not remain patient for long.
In regards to cost, a massive outlay over the next couple of decades will help electricity consumption become far more cost effective in the future, the America government is investing in our long-term energy future that will eventually save millions upon millions of dollars.
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