From The Economist print edition
Information technology can make electricity grids less wasteful and much greener. Businesses have lots of ideas and governments are keen, but obstacles remain
Take what is called “demand response”. Some big companies have long agreed to throttle back their consumption at times of peak demand. With a smart grid, all consumers would be able to do the same. In a basic version, they would get real-time information about their usage and could then turn off the tumble dryer or other energy-hungry appliances. Pilot projects show that this alone would reduce consumption by 6.5% on average, says Ahmad Faruqui of the Brattle Group. If prices also varied with a grid’s load, rising when demand was heavy, customers would cut back by 10-15% during peak hours. That number would double again if smart meters could turn appliances off automatically should rates rise above a certain point.A more resilient grid, however, is the less important half of the story. All told, estimates the Brattle Group, a consultancy, the benefits from a smart grid could amount to $227 billion over the next 40 years in America alone. Just as the original grid facilitated the industrial innovations of the 20th century, the smart grid should support the green advances of the 21st. “Without it, most of the other green technology won’t work,” says Ben Kortlang of KPCB, a Silicon Valley venture-capital firm that recently invested in Silver Spring.