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New Dawn for Smart Grid?

Signs abound that it may be turning a corner

2 min read
New Dawn for Smart Grid?

After Hurricane Sandy smarty-pants pundits like me suggested that maybe what we need right away is not a smarter, more agile grid but, rather, a really tough dumb grid. Indisputably, technologies integrating digital communications and computing into power system infrastructure were materializing much more slowly than their proponents had predicted, and measurable benefits were hard to find. But if the darkest is just before dawn, as the saying goes, then perhaps now the smart grid may at last be coming over the horizon.

Not least among the last weeks' positive indicators: President Obama's plea in his State of the Union address for a "self-healing grid," made in the context of his overall pitch for much greater spending for infrastructure improvement. It was nice to hear, especially coming so soon after the outgoing energy secretary's farewell talk, in which Chu neglected to include the words "smart grid" even once in his 3750-word peroration.

Photo: iStockphoto

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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