The smart grid promises to help minimize blackouts/brownouts and better distribute electricity during peak demand hours. While populations across the board will benefit from a modern power grid, perhaps one of the areas that will best capitalize on the technology are outlying, rural areas.
For many rural areas in the United States, when the power goes out, utility company employees often face a long drive from urbanized regions to determine the source of the problem and how to fix it. This process is both expensive and time-consuming. Yet, with the smart grid, power in rural areas can be improved to be more consistent and suffer less frequent and shorter outages.
Instead of having to travel to affected areas, employees can determine the problems right away from a centralized location with implementation of a smart grid.
A smart grid update will also allow consumers to more closely track and adjust their own energy usage. In addition, with system upgrades, power companies will rarely have to travel to customers’ homes for troubleshooting.
A smart grid will offer continually updated information about electricity usage. In fact, customers will be able to log into the Internet to view their power bills in “real time.” In addition, utilities can better pinpoint power outages and determine how many people are affected. Instead of having to rely on self-reported power failures (impacted by vacant and/or vacation homes) an updated power grid will allow utility companies to immediately view the extent of any problem.
One of the “greenest” benefits to a smart grid update is the fuel savings from having to send meter-readers to many locations. For a single utility, tens of thousands of vehicle trips can be saved, eliminating hundreds of thousands of pounds of CO2 emissions.
Plus, individual consumers can log in to a secure website any time of day to see peaks and valleys of their own energy usage. With this nearly real-time information, people can adjust their energy usage to both save money and power. One day, the technology could allow people to remotely control or schedule through the Internet or their televisions when to run dishwashers, washing machines or more. By running energy-consuming appliances when demand is lower can save money as well as strain on the energy grid.
Where I live, in rural Central Oregon, nearly 100,000 smart meters and communications networks are planned to be installed. Across the U.S., utilities have installed more than 5 million smart meters as of the date of this publication.