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What Is the Smart Grid and What Does it Mean for Me?

In this week's episode, Tech Talker covers the Smart Grid and how it will affect your energy future!

By
Eric Escobar,
March 6, 2014
Episode #115

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Load Balancing

A smart grid helps balance demand for electricity across multiple lines and during different times of the day. This allows the grid to be flexible during peak usage, and it allows it to conserve energy at low usage times, like at night.

The smart grid would have the ability to turn off high-usage devices momentarily, such as air conditioners, to protect against spikes and to level out transmission. This greater efficiency leads to lower prices and happier customers.

This leads me to my next point. The smart grid would allow control over grid-enabled devices that would shut down in times of peak demand. For now, this seems like an opt-in only feature. When available, energy companies give customers reduced prices if they allow their devices to be turned off remotely.

This control comes down to the individual meter level, to something called a smart meter. These meters track and record data and can also communicate with energy companies to relay information.

So it's really the smart meters that give the grid its 'intelligence.' Each meter acts as a sensor on the grid that can send back real-time information. This information can be used to effectively balance the load, determine outages, and even redirect flow to protect against surges.

Privacy

This all sounds pretty slick when you get down to it. Cheaper energy, higher efficiency, more reliability. But this comes at the expense of information gathering, from devices and, in some cases, your appliances. 

If this is something you're concerned about, I wouldn’t be too worried just yet. As I mentioned before, as of now this is something you’d have to opt-in to be a part of. However, I see this trend progressing as time goes on.

Security

Naturally, when we talk about advanced topics like this one, security is an issue. In this case, it's a valid concern. In fact, the smart grid is/would be a major target for hackers. All of these advanced systems that control the smart grid system are also prime targets for terrorists or others looking to take down large portions of the U.S. and its infrastructure. This means that security surrounding these systems has to be lock tight. We'll be watching and keep you updated on the progress.

With that, here are your 5 Quick and Dirty Tips about the smart grid so you'll know what it means when you hear about it or read about it in the media:

  1. The smart grid is not one specific thing, rather it's the combination of many different types of interconnected devices and systems.

  2. Keep an eye out for Smart grid devices, and programs offered by your energy company if you want to become a part of the smart grid movement. This can potentially save you quite a bit of money on your energy bill!

  3. The smart grid uses smart meters and other sensors to act as the nervous system in order to gather information.

  4. This information gathering for the smart grid has brought up privacy concerns that your energy usage habits will be used by the government and large corporations.

  5. As more aspects of the grid get smart, the greater the target its becomes for hackers.

If you'd like more details on the grid, here are four great resources:

Finally, I’ve been getting a lot of requests for explanatory topics such as this. However, if you have a question about your day to day tech including apps, DIY stuff or even a roundup of crazy questions! Don’t be shy send them my way!

Well, that’s it for today! Be sure to check out all my earlier episodes at techtalker.quickanddirtytips.com. And if you have further questions about this podcast or want to make a suggestion for a future episode, post them on Facebook.com/QDTtechtalker.

Until next time, I’m the Tech Talker, keeping technology simple!

Electrical power and balance images courtesy of Shutterstock.

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