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Everyone's got a vision? A global smart grid perspective

08 December 2008
Everyone's got a vision? A global smart grid perspective

By Molly Webb, Head of Smart Technologies, The Climate Group.

Recently I published this on the 2 degrees network:

Smart grid seems to mean something different to everyone. But that doesn't stop people from talking about it. In his book Hot, Flat and Crowded, Tom Friedman calls 'the energy internet' the ultimate meeting of the 'IT' and 'ET' (information, communication, energy and electrical technologies). And he thinks it will be a pivotal step toward the green revolution.

At the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting in September, Al Gore called it the 'electronet' - a phrase that may have been coined by Jim Rogers of Duke Energy.

What they are both talking about is an intelligent generation, distribution and transmission network that enables 2-way communication between the producers and users of energy.

Why is this important for tackling climate change? Because if we hope to reduce power consumption and decarbonise power, we will need an upgraded infrastructure. And our energy infrastructure has been neglected.

In the U.S., Daniel Kammen (a scientist testifying before the U.S. congress in September of this year) said that overall investment in research and development is roughly 3 percent of GDP, but that just one-tenth of this goes to the energy sector. Compare this to companies which regularly invest some 5-10% of sales back into R&D. We haven't had a real breakthrough in how we build power plants in 50 years. The consensus seems to be that the energy sector innovation is pretty stagnant.

Given Europe's targets for 20% renewables and 20% GHG emissions reductions by 2020, China's 15% renewables target by 2015, we have a lot of work to do -- and quickly. Growth in power demand is also rising rapidly. We will not be able to deliver solar, wind, plug in vehicles with a grid that looks like the picture on the top of this blog post.

And investments are being made now to meet demand. In India, for example, the growth in generation capacity, transmission network, distribution network and end user infrastructure is from 50 - 200% out to 2020.

What then, is the smart grid opportunity really about?

In the SMART 2020 report produced by The Climate Group in partnership with GeSI, we identified the main 'levers' for reduction of energy production and consumption and associated emissions as the following:

Integration of renewables as possibly .8 Gt CO2e if we can reduce carbon intensity by 10% in developed countries.

Reducing T&D losses is a .9 Gt CO2e opportunity, if we can achieve a 30% reduction (14% to 10%) of T&D losses for developed countries and 38% (24% to 15%) reduction for developing countries.

Demand side management can reduce energy consumption by 3% but also can help to reduce the need to build new power plants.

User information has been shown to help increase efficiency by anywhere from 5-50%.

The emissions reductions in total from 'smart grid' were 2 Gt CO2e in 2020.  There are more than just emissions savings benefits, such as:

  • Eliminate meter reading costs
  • Real-time billing
  • Reduction of transmission and distribution losses (Reduction of 30% T&D losses in India saves $9 billion in conservative estimates according to SMART 2020)
  • Diversity energy portfolio for greater energy security

My aims for smart grid discussions are to:

  • Better reliability (Outages and service interruptions are estimated to cost the US $100 billion year, and power interruptions at computer software giant Sun Microsystems are estimated to cost the company $1.0 million per minute according to the Gridwise website)
  • Using less peak power can save on building new power plants (China's electricity consumption is expected to increase 10% year on year according to the State Grid Corporation of China)
  • The timeline for each country will be different because each country has different priorities. For India, the short term opportunity is in energy accounting, metering, and remote management. For the US, bringing diverse sources of generation online, reducing peak demand and increasing stability is crucial. (What would be the main drivers in Europe and China?)
  • But most experts agree that the first step to a smart grid is the smart meter. We can't manage what we can't measure. And the market for smart meters is set to grow rapidly - which means an open standard would allow the most rapid uptake of this critical technology.
  • I know that smart meter manufacturers in the West would love to know what kind of smart meters China will buy and when. In the UK and Europe, where smart metering will be likely be encouraged or mandatory, it is crucial that the meters we implement today don't preclude some of the benefits listed above.
  • Provide more information about the accuracy of the assumptions in the SMART 2020 report so we can update the smart grid opportunity figures - please do send your own case studies and data to me either to support or disprove those assumptions (and see attached ppt for a summary of the key points in this post if you'd like to distribute it to other experts)
  • Inform a shared vision for smart grid which in turn informs the standards for smart meters we would like to see implemented today. Feed this standards recommendation into the UK and European regulatory process.
  • Lead to the development of specific projects facilitated by The Climate Group that help accelerate the adoption of smart grid technologies, and ultimately lead to Greenhouse gas reductions

I look forward to the discussion.  What we did not include but would be significant is if electric vehicles could be part of our energy storage system. Energy insight data shows that this could reduce petroleum use by 3% in 10 years. This is of huge interest for countries like Denmark, where excess wind power is produced at night and could be used to charge plugged in vehicles.

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