There’s just one problem with these natural sources of power: they’re intermittent. Solar power (gathered from solar panels) is only produced during the day, and wind power (gathered from turbines) only works if there’s wind to go around. At low levels, these intermittent sources can be used to back up traditional sources during peak hours of energy use. But at higher levels, grid energy needs to be available; once the majority of our power comes from these sources, they need to be available at all times.
That’s where the smart grid comes in. A smart grid delivers electricity using digital technology that tracks power usage with smart meters and adjusts prices depending on the load or availability of sources like solar and wind power. Power meters currently have to manually read, but smart meters wirelessly send power use information to utilities instantly. In theory, this will make intermittent energy sources more viable — if the price of energy increases during times of low availability, consumers will be more likely to adjust energy use accordingly. Smart meters have already been installed in millions of homes in Northern California. The peak pricing program is voluntary right now, but it will become standard within five years.
Now that you’ve got the basics of energy use down, stay tuned next week when we explore the smart grid in more detail.
These complementary technologies will make renewable energy accessible.