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Beyond the challenge of measuring results, the smart grid raises questions about national security, says Bob Gilligan, GE’s vice president for transmission and distribution. “We hear a lot of concerns about cyberterrorism and attacks on our energy infrastructure,” he says. “As we talk about bringing more technology into the grid, providing more connections to the energy infrastructure, there are escalating concerns about protecting that infrastructure.”

Gilligan adds that the technology raises serious privacy concerns as well. “The major concern is that folks don’t want to be inundated with telemarketing calls associated with their usage behavior,” he says. “There’s also some concern about what they’re doing being known minute by minute.”

The massive amount of data generated by smart-grid technology could itself pose a practical problem. Right now, a utility with five million meters has about 30,000 devices for monitoring the grid. As the smart grid develops, that number could increase a thousandfold, with each device conveying a thousand times as much information as one of its counterparts does now, says Erik Udstuen, a general manager at GE Fanuc Intelligent Platforms. Though so much data may be difficult to process, it could also create opportunities for entrepreneurs to develop new monitoring applications, especially if open standards are developed.

Consumers needn’t brace themselves for changes right away; it could take a decade to implement variable pricing. Meanwhile, the grid can be improved in ways that won’t affect customers directly, such as reducing the amount of energy wasted in getting power from generators to consumers: 7 to 10 percent is often lost, and that figure can reach 20 or 30 percent during periods of peak demand. Meanwhile, smart meters and appliances that allow variable pricing will cost billions to develop and could take a decade to install.

Eventually, however, the smart grid could make the supply of electricity more efficient and reliable, and it could help reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by promoting renewable technologies and reducing overall power consumption. “In the long run,” says James Gallagher, a senior vice president at the New York City Development Corp, “it will lead to lower rates.”

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Credit: Kevin Bullis, Technology Review
Video by Kevin Bullis, Technology Review

Tagged: Energy, renewable energy, electricity, GE, smart grid, smart meters, power management

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