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Smart Grid in America and Europe (Part I)

Similar desires, different approaches.

Fortnightly Magazine - January 2011

In the last few years the media has been abuzz over the smart grid. Definitions abound, as well as numerous interpretations. The definition is the starting point of a cohesive vision that governments can use to make the smart grid a reality. As the literature in both the European Union and United States show, the definitions contain basic concepts. The multifaceted nature of the smart grid is illustrated by the ways the two governments understand it.

The E.U. defined the smart grid as “electricity networks that can intelligently integrate the actions of all users connected to it—generators, consumers and those that do both—in order to efficiently deliver sustainable, economic and secure electricity supplies.” 1 Similarly, the U.S. defined the grid of the future as one that will incorporate digital technology to improve reliability, security, and efficiency of the electric system through information exchange, distributed generation, and storage resources, 2 which will result in a “fully automated power delivery network. 3 Because of the growing consensus that the existing grid is in need of updates to meet our future demands, the basic concepts of the smart grid are apparent in the definitions, and involve upgrades, communication, and integration at all levels, resulting in an optimal electric delivery system. 4 The upgrades will change the largely mechanical nature of the current grid into one that is based on digital and communication technology. 5 With the newly installed technology, the grid will be better able to monitor and respond to grid weaknesses and contingencies. 6 The communication advancements will integrate all users of the grid, allowing for greater flexibility in supply and demand. 7

Similarly, the identified functions of the smart grid programs of the U.S. and the E.U. don’t differ substantially. In 2005, the European SmartGrids Technology Platform was created, and it identified the anticipated functions of the smart grid. 8 The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) identified the functions of the smart grid in 2009. 9 Both governments agree that the smart grid will facilitate greater customer participation, allow for all types and sizes of generation, provide adequate power quality, efficiency, and reliability, and will create opportunities for new products and market integration. 10 Only the E.U. stated explicitly that the smart grid would “significantly reduce the environmental impact of the whole electricity supply system” even though this is understood in the U.S. as an underlying goal. 11

Clearly, some benefits overlap with the functions. The smart grid is fascinating because, in addition to the functions, it can be the mechanism for countless new benefits. The new smart grid is more efficient, reliable, and economical. 12 Communication between the grid components from generation to consumption will increase