Tom Raftery on the Smart Grid and Electricity 2.0

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Jaymi Heimbuch:

"What exactly is the smart grid, why don't we have it, and when will we? For most Americans, the smart grid is a mystery. That's part of the reason why there is some bubbling hostility toward smart meter installation projects in many places, and smart grid pilot projects happening in (relatively) so few.

Tom Raftery of GreenMonk is an expert on the smart grid. He took the time to talk with us about the ups and downs of the (slowly) developing smart grid.

As a refresher, the smart grid is the next generation of our energy grid, and hopefully too, our water grid. It is the implementation of smart devices and systems that allow for two-way communication between energy sources, utilities and end users. This allows for real-time feedback to optimize energy efficiency and minimize both the resulting monthly energy bill as well as the need for additional power plants.

However there are still a lot of questions that consumers have about a smart grid, such as how it impacts information privacy, will bills be accurate, will it allow us to use renewable energy more, and so on. We're aware that the smart grid has the potential to significantly cut the carbon footprint of the US, but will that come at the cost of information privacy or the security of our energy grid? These are important questions that are asked just as often as "Smart grid? What's that?"

In early 2009, Raftery gave a talk at the eTech conference, and it is an excellent lecture to watch to gain a strong understanding of why we need a smart grid to make our electricity grid more efficient and what is standing in our way." (


Jaymi Heimbuch:


TH: Other than this change in demand and timing, how will the smart grid help us incorporate renewables into the grid?

"Utilities are used to dealing with a situation where their generation (gas coal, oil) is steady and predictable in its output and their customers' demand is unsteady but generally predictable (demand tomorrow = demand this day last year +1-2%, say).

For various reasons utilities are having to move to a situation where they need to incorporate more renewables into their mix. Renewables generation is not steady and is only slightly predictable (via weather forecasts, for example). Because electricity has to be used as it is generated (can't be stored, generally), the more unstable the generation, the more unstable the grid.

How can you fix this? Well, one way would be to align the demand with the supply.

How do you do that? Well, as supply and demand shift, they affect price on the wholesale market. So, if you expose people to the real price, they will modify their behaviour to select for when price is lowest (when electricity is in lower demand (or when their is a higher percentage of renewables as I mentioned earlier)). This is demand response.

Now, however you do it, if you roll out a demand response program, you are aligning demand with supply. The more you do that, the more stable you make the grid. The more stable the grid, the more renewables that can be added to it." (