Whether it was the rollout of Miami’s massive new smart grid initiative, a look inside GE’s smart grid lab, or new concepts such as the zero-energy home, GE Reports has lately been filled with smart grid-related news. While the term gets thrown around a lot, it can still be difficult to put your arms around just what it really means. Jim Campbell, president and CEO of GE’s Consumer & Industrial business, recently spoke at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. about the American Clean Energy and Security Act and the role that smart appliances will play in the smart grid. But it was his summary of the big picture that provided a clear view of just what the energy future can look like.
“Let’s step back a moment and talk more about the ‘smart grid,’ Jim said in his talk. “In the most basic terms, the smart grid would transmit energy more efficiently, increase reliability, and automate the monitoring and control of electrical distribution. Power could be more easily moved from one region of the country to another where the need may be greater.
“Through improved monitoring, the grid could better protect itself during damaging storms and detect where outages have occurred.
“Perhaps most important, making the grid smart will enable utilities to address one of their most challenging problems — peak energy use periods. That is, the daily and seasonal periods when normal capacity is maxed out and extra capacity needs to be added.
“Even though the equipment to produce this extra capacity is idle most of the time, utilities must pay for it and pass the cost on to their customers. If utilities could somehow smooth out these peaks, they could eliminate, or at least reduce the cost and the environmental impact, created by these so-called ‘peaker’ plants. How might utilities do that? One way is to offer price incentives to consumers in the form of lower rates at off-peak times to move energy-intensive activities to those hours.”
“In many locations, utilities are already experimenting with Time-of-Use Tariffs,” Jim noted. “In California, Southern California Edison offers a voluntary time-of-use pricing option. For example, rather than paying an average flat rate, consumers are charged 20 cents a kilowatt hour overnight — when energy usage is at its lowest — and 44 cents per kilowatt hour during peak times — from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. — when use is highest.
“The smart grid can make smoothing the peaks easier. It can transmit information about stresses on the grid — for example, a possible brownout — or, in areas that apply time-of-use pricing, it can transmit changes in the price of electricity.
“According to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, residential demand response programs represent the largest opportunity to reduce U.S. peak demand. According to FERC, approximately 7 percent of total U.S. peak demand over the ten-year period from 2009 to 2019, or 65 gigawatts, could be reduced through demand response programs. For those of you like me, who can’t count that high, this avoided demand is equivalent to the annual generation capacity of 108 coal-fired plants at a typical size of 600 megawatts over a ten-year period.
“Our pilot study and other studies show that making consumers more aware of energy consumption changes their behavior. When people see their energy costs in real time — not just at the end of the month — and when they realize how little their lifestyle has been affected by allowing their appliances to operate in demand response mode, they do take positive steps to save energy and lower their costs.”
* Watch GE Reports’ videos about our smart grid research labs
* Read “Introducing the zero energy home” on GE Reports
* Read “Hoo-rah! Marines fire up GE’s smart grid technology”
* Hear about the smart grid straight from our scientists on their blog
* Read about our smart grid work in NY and NJ
* Check out GE’s augmented reality on Plug into the smart grid
* Read GE Reports’ story about smart grid legislation
* Learn about GE’s smart grid efforts in Florida, Oklahoma and Houston
* Read about our research with the Dept. of Energy