America and Canada are on a mission to transform their power grids into “smart grids” of the future, where electricity meters, transformers, control centers, and even home appliances communicate with each other over mobile networks, distributing power more efficiently than ever before.
No longer will utility companies need to send out workers to read meters, look for broken equipment, or measure voltage. M2M technology is at the heart of a revolution to automate and modernize the power industry, powering the smart meters and control centers and enabling the communication required to connect all the pieces of the jigsaw.
What can a smart grid do for you? Plenty.
Balancing power demand with available energy is a constant challenge for electric companies, sometimes leading to black outs and brown outs when demand exceeds the available electricity. Imagine a city where non-essential appliances are automatically shut off and power is re-routed to avoid outages. Those cities are becoming a reality as we speak. Take a look at 10 North American cities who are already building the smart grids of the future, including San Diego, where a massive 1.4 million smart meters are already in use. The latest figures from the U.S. government show that over 33 million smart meters were installed by the end of 2011, with millions more added since.
Some of the power outages caused by faulty power transformers could be avoided all together with smart transformers. Much like a car’s “check engine” light, smart transformers can notify technicians of a problem before a total failure occurs.
In a recent example provided by the U.S. Department of Energy, a tree limb fell onto a power line, knocking out power to 1,100 customers. Smart meter data allowed the utility to reroute power to all but 200 customers in less than one minute.
Naturally, consumers are most excited about the potential to save money. Smart meters can allow residents to track their energy usage online in real time, adjusting their consumption habits and lowering electricity bills.
Smart appliances such as washers, dryers, and dishwashers could be connected to the grid, switching them on and off remotely to avoid usage during peak demand, when energy is most expensive. During a time of surplus energy, appliances could be automatically switched on, to aid in evening out power distribution during the day. Smart metering also enables the consumer to adjust the consumption according to the actual weather conditions – a lot of sun and wind means “cheap electricity” and “good feeling” to the consumer.
With the creation of a Federal Smart Grid Task Force, the U.S. Department of Energy is investing heavily in smart grid infrastructure that is paving the way for a more connected and efficient future, possibly saving the U.S. trillions of dollars over the next 20 years.
For savvy, energy-conscious consumers, the smart grid can’t arrive fast enough.