A smart grid is essentially an electric grid with internet access. This means that communication occurs between where electricity is generated and where electricity is consumed. Just as with any complex task, better communication usually creates better efficiency. Internet-connected meters and improved electronics on power generators are able to coordinate with one another in a way that has never been possible until recently.
An Electric Grid Built like the Internet
When we use the network of servers, data centers, and computers that make up the internet, the route that our information takes follows the most efficient path at that given moment.
The way this works is similar to driving a distance while using a gps map that shows current traffic conditions. We usually choose the route with the least traffic getting us to our destination in the shortest amount of time possible. On the enormous scale that the internet exists, the possible paths for information to follow creates an incredibly resilient and efficient network. Smart grids around the world are being built right now based on this model in Chicago, New York, Hawaii, and across the U.S.
Distributed Energy Generation
Solar panels and wind turbines are decentralizing the electric grid. Currently, electric grids are built to distribute electricity from large centralized power plants. These plants must ramp up and down to meet the fluctuating demand throughout the day, and the power they produce must travel long distances to reach everyone.
With a distributed and decentralized smart grid, energy from multiple sources can be integrated together efficiently while improving the grid’s reliability and ultimately reducing the cost of electricity. Solar energy services and wind power generation has plummeted in cost over the past decade.
As these forms of power production continue to grow, the advantage of having a smart grid infrastructure will continue to benefit ratepayers and grid operators by allowing for better communication between where electricity is produced and where it is consumed.
There are parallels between the efficiency gains that a smart grid produces on a large scale and the efficiency improvements that microinverters and power optimizers enable on the scale of a single rooftop solar panel installation.
Microinverters and power optimizers communicate with one another to maximize the power output of each solar module in a solar array. This is analogous to smart meters and connected power plants working together to improve the performance of the entire electric grid.
Advances in electronics and software continue to push the limits of efficiency making clean and renewable energy more affordable and reliable than conventional energy sources.