Recently the Economist included a thorough smart grid story in their Technology Quarterly issue; if you are looking for a good overview of the state of play in smart grid at a high level, this story will give you that background, running the gamut from distribution automation to interoperability standards.
Another recent overview article from Computer World illustrates some of the benefits of smart grid investments and provides some good background links.
One thing to which I’d like to draw your attention is an excellent summary of the opportunity cost argument for smart grid investment — a quote from Ahmad Faruqui in the Economist article:
Reducing peak demand in America by a mere 5% would yield savings of about $66 billion over 20 years, according to Ahmad Faruqui of the Brattle Group, a consultancy that has worked with utilities on designing and evaluating smart-meter pilot programmes. Moreover, studies have shown that the best in-home smart-grid technologies can achieve reductions in peak demand of up to 25%, which would result in savings of more than $325 billion over that period, calculates Dr Faruqui. “Technology is expensive,” he says, “but not using it will be even more expensive.”