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Smart Grid Could Be Perfect 164th Birthday Present for Edison

Friday, April 8, 2011

Thomas Edison, whose 164th birthday is today, began the electrical age in New York City in 1882 when he turned on electric lights in 58 houses.

Within years, his electricity grid had grown to send electricity to thousands, and was the model that we use today to send power to billions worldwide.

But, it has major problems: It’s old, prone to blackouts, one-sided, and concealed by complexity.

Your power grid…rebooted

Now, Ontario and several other regions leading the charge are launching a major upgrade to create a smart grid that combines the most current in energy technology with beefed-up telecommunications and information systems. One of the key advisors on Ontario’s development of a smart grid has been Jatin Nathwani, Professor and Ontario Research Chair in Public Policy for Sustainable Energy, Executive Director of the Waterloo Institute for Sustainable Energy (not to mention an advisor for the Equinox 2030 Summit in June.)

According to Nathwani, smart grids will have three major benefits:

  1. Public becoming “professional” energy purchasers - Increased information can transform customers from passive receivers of energy to active participants, customizing how and when they buy power.” There’s a whole host of devices about to burst onto the public market in the area of real-time feedback for consumers to control usage,” said Nathwani. “It’s not too far away that I could be in my office using an app on my BlackBerry to control the thermostat in my home. But even beyond just thermostat, we will have the ability to remotely control, manage, and understand what energy is being used by individual devices like the fridge or personal computers.”
  2. Curbing blackouts with “smart” energy flow - The second major benefit will be building a more reliable (and more informative) energy infrastructure for utility companies and industry: Each year Canada loses about $150 billion due to blackouts that could last from hours to just minutes. The ability to control energy flows more precisely will add flexibility that should prevent large scale blackouts like the one in 2003 that plunged the Eastern seaboard into darkness.
  3. Letting solar and wind power do its job - Thirdly, the new smart grid will allow users to more fully provide energy to the grid using distributed energy sources like solar panels or wind turbines.

“Policies to implement renewable energy on a larger scale and behind the meter solar photovoltaics on customer roofs for instance has enabled new technologies to interact with utilities in Ontario like never before,” says Nathwani.

“We see two-way power flows as opposed to one way and new distributed energy generation such as biogas on farms, photovoltaic cells, microwind farms, even larger industrial scale wind all around the province. The physics of the system has changed, and we need different control technology that only smart grids can offer.”

Nathwani also believes that Ontario’s vision for a smart electricity grid will help it get off coal completely as the provincial government has promised, and even replace gasoline with electrons through the growing electric car market. Written by: Graeme Stemp-Morlock