Any discussion about a low-carbon future that relies on a significant share of renewable energy must necessarily focus on the idea of “smart grids.” But what does this mean in everyday terms? Let’s take a look at our near future.

Action Matrix of Smart Grids - Source: "The German Roadmap. E-Energy / Smart Grid"

At 5:45 p.m., John Doe comes home from work and eats dinner. He puts his plate in the dishwasher and gets ready to run it. But then he looks at his Smart Meter and realizes that 6 p.m. is energy “rush hour,” a time everybody comes home from work, watches television, washes their clothes, bathes their children—and runs the dishwasher.

John’s Smart Meter provides minute-by-minute information about energy prices, the type of energy used (renewable or fossil fuel energy), and its provider. Obtaining this information requires that power consumers, generators, and those who are both (John’s office has solar PV cells on its roof) are linked via Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). An online platform (the “Energy Internet”) collects the data and makes it transparent (“Smart Architecture”).

Armed with this information, John decides to run his dishwasher later, when the price of energy is lower (typically at night) and when he can use power that is produced only from renewable energy sources (“Smart Demand”). There is no doubt by now that John is a smart cookie. Because his dishwasher is connected to the Smart Meter, he can program it to make sure that the dishes are clean by breakfast the next day (“Smart Appliances”).

After dinner, John wants to watch his favorite Western film. Energy prices are still at their peak. John’s electric car parked in the driveway automatically connects to his Outlook Calendar and checks his appointments for tomorrow (“Smart Wheels”). It recognizes that John has no outside appointments and needs only enough energy to drive 10 miles to his office, where the car can be recharged with the company’s PV-generated electricity. Therefore, the car is able to power John’s television while he watches “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”

Meanwhile, the evening turns pretty stormy. The wind park located in the next county over begins to produce a lot of energy. Using the data interface on the Energy Internet, a “Smart Market” is established. Excess energy is transported via interconnected pipelines to the pumped storage plant in John’s city so that the wind energy now being produced doesn’t need to be curtailed.

Think Smart Watts are science fiction? Check this out: The European Union plans to publish a new Energy Infrastructure Plan this November that focuses on how to establish interconnected smart grids that will eventually lead to a closely integrated European energy market. In the United States, Cisco and Xcel Energy are betting heavily on smart grids, and the city of Boulder, Colorado, became America’s first smart-grid city in 2008!

Meanwhile, a new German government program known as “E-energy” provides funding to help six model regions adopt completely integrated smart grids by 2012.

Video: A Glance Into a Smart World (Source: German Government\’s E-Energy Initiative)

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energy infrastructure, Germany, renewable energy, smart grids