An introduction to "The Smart Grid" by Silver Spring Networks

Imagine a world without online banking or online travel booking, or for that matter online everything. Imagine having to drive to a bank to deposit money, having to visit a travel agent to buy a plane ticket. Imagine having to consult a phone book to look for a restaurant's phone number, and having to look at a map to figure how how to get there. The internet and wireless communications have revolutionized our lives -- isn't it time they did the same for the way we distribute, measure, and track electrical power?

Last week I was invited by Silver Spring Networks and Mom Central Consulting to learn all about what a Smart Grid is, and why we should care. Simply put, the Smart Grid digitizes our current electrical grid; it's kind of like the internet, for energy. I wasn't surprised to hear that Thomas Edison was the inventor behind our electrical grid, but I was shocked to find out that that our current electrical grid has hardly changed at all since Edison's time. That's like being stuck with those heavy, black tellyphone-thingies. with rotary dials and cords connecting handle to phone and phone to house, whenever you want to call someone! Our current electrical grid is built on aging infrastructure, and 60% of it will need to be replaced in the next 10 years -- so when they do, why not replace it with new technology?

As PG&E's Smart Grid technology provider, our host Silver Springs Network knows a thing or two about the Smart Grid (and has more than a little interest in getting other utilities to adopt it), so they were able to give us a good run-down on the economic and environmental benefits of a Smart Grid:

It saves consumers money
Under a Smart Grid, consumers have a Smart Meter installed in their houses that can itemize and record electrical usage, then transmit it over a secure wireless network. This technology allows you to take control of your energy consumption by measuring and showing you exactly how much energy you are using, when you use it, and what it costs you. Because energy prices vary considerably during the day, you will soon be able to see the least expensive times to run your appliances, such as washers and dishwashers, which will mean significant financial savings. Amazingly, recent studies have shown that customers with smart meters have been able to reduce their monthly energy consumption by 10-15%.

In addition, smart grid technology will be able to save an estimated $36 billion annually by increasing energy efficiency, renewable energy and distributed generation. Since information is digitized and transmitted wirelessly,

It helps the environment
Energy generation in California is already relatively clean, with a significant amount of it coming from hydro power and natural gas. Smart grid technology takes it even further by reducing the need to build more fossil-fueled power plants while encouraging the use of renewable energy sources like wind and solar. This will also lessen our dependence on foreign oil. Implementation of the smart grid would reduce carbon from electrical power by 25% or roughly 10% of overall US CO2 emissions. This savings is estimated to have the same impact as removing 140 million cars from the road.

It makes your life easier
Smart meter technology will alert your utility company in the case of a power outage so they can restore your power faster, saving you money (it's estimated that outages and interruptions cost Americans $150 billion annually – or $500 for each one of us) and aggravation. Smart grid technology will soon be able to send you energy usage alerts via text, email or phone, so you're always aware of spikes in your energy consumption and take measures to counteract it. And in the future, there will be "smart appliances" connected to your home network that allow you to run them remotely at times when energy consumption is low, like at night.

Sadly, Palo Alto is not part of the PG&E network -- we have our own city utility company -- so we don't have any smart meters in our area yet. But it sounds like a great idea to me, and hopefully one day our city will make the investment and move our electrical grid from the horse-drawn cart era, and into the age of the Tesla!

Photos from the event

As a pioneer in fresh, organic, seasonal vegetarian cuisine, San Francisco's Greens Restaurant was the ideal venue to be learning about a technology that can dramatically reduce energy costs and lessen our impact on the planet.
Plus, the views were terrific.

Share photos on twitter with TwitpicWe feasted on salad w/ red endive, apples, blue cheese, pistachios, pomegranates & cider vinaigrette

Share photos on twitter with TwitpicIt was hard to concentrate on the Smart Grid with smells wafting up from my plate of eggplant & summer squash gratin w/ leeks tomatoes asiago basil & goat cheese custard!

Share photos on twitter with TwitpicRaspberry & bosc pear upside down cake, get in mah belleh.

Disclosure: I wrote this post after attending an informational luncheon on behalf of Silver Spring Networks and Mom Central Consulting and received a gift bag and gift card as a thank you for taking the time to participate. The views and opinions expressed here are my own.

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