Sustainable Energy

Power Control

Smart grids use communication technologies (shown as red lines in the low wind and high demand scenarios) to tie together the transmission network (blue lines), power sources, and control systems. This reduces the need for additional power plants, allows renewable energy to replace fossil-fuel power plants, and makes the grid more resistant to blackouts and brownouts.

New substations that will react to commands or problems within a fraction of a second will make it possible to change from a traditional system, where electricity flows in one direction only, to one in which electricity can flow in multiple directions. Through smart meters in homes and businesses (here connected wirelessly to the substation’s communication system), utilities will be able to alert customers when the spot price of electricity rises because of peaking demand. That will give them an incentive to reduce their electricity use, thereby lessening the load on the grid. Smart appliances such as air conditioners and refrigerators will be able to take these prices into account, shifting into low-power modes as needed.

This story is part of our January/February 2011 Issue
See the rest of the issue
Subscribe

Drivers of plug-in hybrids and all-­electric vehicles, meanwhile, will be able to automatically adjust battery charging to use the cheapest electricity available. Ultimately, the batteries in these vehicles will act as a backup power supply: when the capacity of power plants becomes strained, car owners will be able to sell some of the electricity stored in the battery back to the utility. Similarly, home­owners will be able to sell surplus power generated by residential wind or solar-panel installations.

Tech Obsessive?
Become an Insider to get the story behind the story — and before anyone else.
Subscribe today

Uh oh–you've read all five of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium

$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Sustainable Energy

Can we sustainably provide food, water, and energy to a growing population during a climate crisis?

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.

  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus ad-free web experience, select discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

You've read of free articles this month.