Today Google and GE announced a new partnership, teaming to develop smart grid technologies and clean energy. The concept of the smart grid is essentially bringing electricity transmission, distribution, and use into the 21st century through the use of two-way communications, advanced sensors, and distributed computers to improve the efficiency, reliability and safety of power delivery and use. The system has not been integrated into America’s energy distribution system, but the concept offers increased reliability, efficiency and safety of the power grid, enables decentralized power generation so homes can be both an energy client AND supplier (allowing individual loads to tailor their generation directly to their load, making them independent from grid power failures), and enabling flexibility of the power consumption on the clients side.
Developing and implementing this concept will be crucial if plug-in vehicles (getting closer and closer over the horizon) are going to be a benefit instead of a detriment to the electric system. Smart power grids would allow people to conduct tasks such as recharging electric cars at times of day when demand is not high, and enable them to sell solar or other renewable energy back to utility companies.
Surprisingly, it is political and regulatory hurdles, not technological ones, that block the path to revamping the US power grid, and it is this side of the puzzle that this new partnership will investigate. FAS hasn’t done much research into smart grids, but we see it as an important upgrade in the bigger picture of improving our national energy use, and we’re very interested to see where this partnership will go.
A fact sheet on the partnership can be found here.