New Video Can Fill You In About Smart Power Grids

The video features highlights from several IEEE conferences, including last year’s Conference on Global Sustainable Energy Infrastructure, known as Energy 2030

6 May 2009

The United States, China, Canada, and the European Union all recently announced plans to upgrade their aging electricity transmission and distribution infrastructures and reduce carbon emissions by implementing “smart grid” technologies. Such electrical distribution systems would allow the power that’s generated to be used more efficiently. But do you know how a smart grid, which relies on no single technology but on a collection of them, works? You can find out by watching “A Smart Grid for Intelligent Energy Use,” an eight-minute video now available on and YouTube.

The video features highlights from several IEEE conferences, including last year’s Conference on Global Sustainable Energy Infrastructure, known as Energy 2030. That conference examined the technology, policy, and economic framework required to create a new energy infrastructure by the year 2030. The video also features speakers from the 2007 Plug-In Hybrid Vehicles: Accelerating Innovation Conference, which explored improving the electrical infrastructure.

To set the stage for why smart grids are so important, the video starts with a presentation from the 2030 conference by IEEE Fellow Deepak Divan, president of the IEEE Power Electronics Society.

“Prosperity…for the whole world is inextricably linked to energy,” says Divan in the video. “Abundant, sustainable energy is probably the solution to a lot of our problems.”

But power generation comes with a price, namely carbon emissions, a factor in global warming. “Today, power generation accounts for 40 percent of the U.S. carbon footprint,” adds John MacDonald of GE Energy. “We must find a way to do more with less around the world, and we need to do it quickly.”

For U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), smartening the grid is the answer. “Our current electricity grid actually could give us more production,” Cantwell says. “We could use the electricity we produce today in a smarter way.”

According to David M. Radcliffe of Southern Co., an energy company in Atlanta, one smarter way would be to deploy an automated metering infrastructure that would allow two-way communication between utilities and customers. Such a system would monitor power usage and outages, curb peak demand by automatically shutting off machinery, and integrate renewable energy and plug-in hybrid cars into the grid.

This last feature would accommodate on the smart grid the increasing popularity of plug-in hybrid cars and the forthcoming all-electric cars. The video looks at a plug-in car and an environmentally friendly house owned by Paul Scott in Santa Monica, Calif. Scott is a founding member of Plug-In America, a coalition of electric-car owners who advocate clean air and energy independence. He uses solar cells for his electricity and his car, and he earns money by selling electricity back to the local utility.

The video was created “to make IEEE members aware of what IEEE was doing in one of the most important technologies for reducing our dependence on oil,” says Russell Lefevre, 2008 IEEE-USA President and 2008 chair of the IEEE Technical Activities New Technology Directions Committee, the group that helped fund the video along with IEEE-USA and the IEEE Power & Energy Society. The video was produced by the Future Directions Group, IEEE Technical Activities, and ScienCentral, which develops science and technology programs for television.

Adds Wanda Reder, president of the IEEE Power & Energy Society, “We wanted to raise awareness about the [smart grid] technologies and create an understanding of IEEE’s involvement, as well as educate those outside IEEE. YouTube was used to reach an audience that we would not have touched with”


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