Will Cities Drive Smart Grid Development?

charging station
charging station

San Francisco is working to convert the city’s entire transportation system to cleaner fuels and electricity, and to build an urban infrastructure for electric vehicles. Boulder, Colorado has already become the nation’s first “Smart Grid City.” And Austin, Texas has undertaken the “Pecan Street Project” to “develop, test and implement the urban power system of the future” and establish the city as “America’s clean energy laboratory.”

What do these cities have in common? They are on the leading edge of municipal actions to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through smarter electricity use and greater use and integration of clean energy technologies, including distributed solar power.

A key element in these efforts is development of the “smart grid” concept. In a nutshell, smart grid is about bringing electric utility operations into the digital information age, in which the traditional model of one-way power flows from large generation stations to customer electricity loads is supplanted by a system that is more intelligent in its ability to collect, manage, communicate and respond to real-time information about generation sources and customer loads.

Smart grid has many elements but the most critical will be to optimize the integration and operation of what literally will be millions of new devices connecting to the grid, such as solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, wind turbines, smart appliances, electric vehicle charging stations, and energy storage devices, to name just a few.

A recent report sponsored by the World Economic Forum notes that cities “will play a pivotal role as catalysts for smart grid implementation . . . (and) . . . will be integral in managing the transition to a smarter energy infrastructure and a functioning low-carbon economy.” After all, as the report notes, 71% of GHG emissions are generated by urban environments. Cities and counties are already on the forefront of solar energy adoption both by using solar to supply public electricity needs and by implementing programs to encourage greater solar adoption among their citizens. Hopefully, smart grid is not far behind.

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