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article imageClean energy innovations that will transform our world (Part 2)

By Karen Graham     May 14, 2017 in Technology
Technological innovations in electricity generation, energy storage, and the smart grid are changing the way we power our world. Great progress has been made in developing renewable energy resources, changing the face of the energy industry.
In Part 1 of our look at the technological innovations that are shaping the energy industry, we looked at the advances made in fuel cells, and the inroads that have already been made in creating hydrogen from renewable sources.
And we learned that the automotive industry has become a powerful driver in the development of the lithium-air storage battery used in electric vehicles. Innovations in lithium storage batteries have also included significant developments in hybrid solar cell storage batteries.
Taking on the grid and the "smart grid"
Today, we will look at the "smart grid." You may have heard about the grid, and even the smart grid. But do you know what the grid really is? "The grid" refers to the electric grid, a whole network of transmission lines, substations, transformers and more that deliver electricity from the power plant to your home or business.
When you turn the bathroom light on or hit the remote to watch television, you are making use of the grid. You do know something about the grid, though. When the electricity suddenly goes out during a thunderstorm, it is probably because lightening has struck a transformer.
The nation's current electrical grid was built in the 1890s and was improved upon as the technology advanced over the years. Today, the U.S. electrical grid covers more than 9,200 electric generating units with more than 1 million megawatts of generating capacity connected to more than 300,000 miles of transmission lines, according to the federal government.
Our electrical grid has been strained to its limits, and in order to meet the electrical demands of the future, we will need a new kind of grid, one that can handle the digital and computerized equipment and technology dependent on it. Hence the name "smart grid."
Power Grid Network
An interconnected electrical grid network for delivering electricity from suppliers to consumers.
Doug Waldron
What makes the grid smart?
Basically, it's digital technology. Just like the Internet, there will be two-way communication directly between the utility and the customer by way of smart meters in every household and building. The smart meters will send usage data to the utility in "real time," allowing adjustments in availability to fluctuate according to the area’s needs.
Upgrading the grid will require testing, technology improvements, consumer education, the development of standards and regulations, and information sharing between all the energy industry partners, from nuclear power, coal-fired power and renewables. This is one reason why the U.S. set up a task force in 2007 to ensure a smooth transition to the new technology.
Steve Cohen, executive director of the Earth Institute and director of the Master of Public Administration Program in Environmental Science and Policy at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, told Phys.Org, "The model of a highly centralized energy system with big power plants in a few places, distributing energy out on the grid to individuals' homes and businesses, is an old-fashioned, wasteful and pretty vulnerable model."
Cohen says that trying to build the smart grid all at once would take too much money and that it is much more sensible to start with "micogrids." He added, "So we will create the smart grid by accumulating microgrids, which is pretty much how the original grid was created."
Needless to say, as more electrical generation from wind and solar power enters the electrical grid, we will be hearing more about the smart grid. Many of our utility companies are balking at embracing the inclusion of renewable energy sources into the electrical grid for one simple reason - They have had the monopoly on energy for a long time. But the times are changing and we are in the 21st century.
More about Clean energy, energy industry, Electrical grid, Smart grid, diigital technology
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