A Roundup of Some Smart Grid Links

Lynne Kiesling

The Department of Energy has published a new, very user-friendly introduction to smart grid technologies, benefits, and policies (pdf). I have some quibbles with some of the details, but if you are a newcomer to smart grid (say, for example, if you have heard that this is a primary objective of the incoming Obama administration, but you are not familiar with it), this primer is a good place to start. It includes descriptions of some smart grid projects that demonstrate the possibilities and potential benefits. It’s also got links to a lot of the parties that are working on smart grid technology, interoperability, and policy (including the GridWise Architecture Council, of which I am a member).

Another organization that has been working very deeply in smart grid development is IBM. This Greentech Media article discusses their work, and their indication that 2009 is likely to involve a lot of business and government focus on smart grid and data storage strategies, technologies, policies, and business models.

Smart grid is attractive on a number of levels. For one thing, a substantial amount of the power in the U.S. is wasted. UC Berkeley’s Arun Manjumar recently said that the U.S. consumes 100 quads (or 100 quadrillion BTUs) of energy a year and 50 to 60 quads get lost as waste heat or by other means before it can be used. Smart grid technologies that can help shuttle around power loads over a network conceivably could put a dent in that.

Second, the technology better fits into the VC mold for building companies. Unlike solar or biofuel companies, most smart grid outfits don’t need to build huge factories. They develop software or networking devices for controlling various aspects of power transmission or consumption. …

Third, the grid right now is … uh … pretty dumb. It was made to send electrons in one direction and was not designed for two-way communication.

“Smart grid may be the largest cloud,” said [IBM’s Drew] Clark. “It will be expensive, but that also means it will be lucrative” for companies selling networking gear.

Fourth, because smart grid doesn’t really exist yet, the time exists for startups to set standards and practices.

As alluded to in the DOE document linked above, there are a lot of organizations that are working together to develop a clear, consistent set of industry interoperability standards, to facilitate innovation and commercialization and investment in smart grid.

Note here a topic for further development: Clark’s reference to smart grid as “the largest cloud”. I am at a GridWise Architecture Council meeting right now, and just last night at dinner another Council member and I were talking about the implications of cloud computing for the electricity industry. More on that later.

2 thoughts on “A Roundup of Some Smart Grid Links

  1. “the U.S. consumes 100 quads (or 100 quadrillion BTUs) of energy a year and 50 to 60 quads get lost as waste heat or by other means before it can be used”

    This is a case of apples and oranges. The 100 Quad figure is a gross figure that include the coal burned to make electricity. The electricity consumed is the product of 40 of that 100. see:


    Now the electricity generated is 4.2 Trillion kWh. Which is about 15 Exa-Joules (using SI here) or 15 EJ. A quad is 10^15 BTU and a BTU is about 1055 J so a quad is about 1.05 EJ. one kWh = 3.6 MJ and a billion kWh = 3.6 TJ

    So 15 EJ is produced from 42 EJ of fuel. Which is shows about 36% efficiency. Please note that the lost 27 EJ here is not electricity on the grid smart or stupid. It is almost all thermal losses due to the laws of thermodynamics that limit the efficiency of any thermal system by the ratio between hot and cold fluid temperatures measured in absolute terms (Kelvin instead of Celsius).

  2. The DOE gives us an interesting, accessible overview here. Thanks for bringing it to light. You said you had some quibbles, here’s mine: it touts the plug in hybrid as a potential benefactor and force multiplier of the smart grid. The more exciting possibility is the all electric vehicle, working from an electric recharge grid.

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