Power: A System on the Brink

The Aging Electric Grid

Harnessing Power

Smart technologies and the rise of the Internet of Things are making life more convenient and productive for consumers, businesses, cities and industry.  But, there is one critical component of these smart applications that hasn’t kept pace with the rest: the nation’s electrical grid.

The Existing Grid is Outdated and Unreliable

Featuring over 160,000 miles of transmission lines, the U.S. electrical grid is many decades old and is operating at full capacity. Aging infrastructure that was designed and put in place 50-60 years or more ago can no longer keep up with the energy needs of today’s technology-driven society. When weather events cause power lines to break, or when power plants aren’t able to produce enough power to meet demand, blackouts and brownouts leave homes, schools, hospitals, and businesses without power.

Fixing Power Outages on the Existing Grid: Time-Consuming and Costly

When power is disrupted on the existing grid, utilities must spend time and money dispatching workers to investigate the issue and manually re-route power around the problem to restore service to customers. Crews must travel to the area where the outage has occurred to find the cause of an outage, then develop a plan to temporarily re-route power around the problem to restore service to customers. In some cases, utilities must dispatch additional crews equipped with different equipment to repair the problem that caused the outage.

Smart Grid: A Better Path Forward for the Nation’s Energy Network

The U.S. Department of Energy defines the Smart Grid as “a developing network of transmission lines, equipment, controls and new technologies working together to respond immediately to our 21st Century demand for electricity.” 

The Smart Grid:

  • Brings information technology and automation to the nation’s existing power grid – technologies such as more and different sensors, smart meters, software, digital controls and computers, and real-time communications networks
  • Provides the intelligence necessary for the grid to become “self-healing” during outages, as sensors and systems are able to detect power fluctuations, identify a problem and reroute power around it, restoring service to customers in a matter of minutes
  • Offers grid operators the detailed information they need to see and manage electricity consumption in real time
  • Replaces aging and outdated infrastructure
  • Introduces two-way communications between utilities and their customers, giving customers the information they need to make informed decisions about their energy use and an opportunity to play a role in reducing peak demand on the grid, resulting in lower energy costs
  • Enables electricity production to be more evenly distributed throughout the day

Benefits of a Smart Grid

  • Smart Grid technologies like smart electric meters provide customers with real-time information regarding their energy consumption. Statistics show that when customers are aware of how much energy they’re using, they will reduce their consumption by 5 to 10 percent.
  • A more efficient electrical grid will reduce America’s reliance on fossil-fuel-burning, greenhouse-gas-producing power plants, decreasing air pollution from electric utilities by as much as 30% by 2030.
  • Just a 5% increase in grid efficiency would provide energy savings equal to eliminating emissions from approximately 20% of the cars in the U.S.
  • By 2030, a 9% increase in grid efficiency over today’s system could save more than 400 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity every year, with a savings of $42 billion in only the first year.


Learn More

Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative: Smart Grid 101

Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative: How the Smart Grid Keeps Your Power On (and Gets it Restored Quickly When it Goes Out)

Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative: Smart Grid Benefits You Today … and Tomorrow

Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative: I Care About the Environment

What is the Smart Grid? The U.S. Department of Energy

Girding the Grid: The Missing Piece of the Smart City Revolution

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