University of Vermont

Vermont-Sandia Partnership

About the Smart Grid

The electric industry is poised to make the transformation from a centralized, producer-controlled network to one that is less centralized and more consumer-interactive. In doing so, the existing grid will be transformed from a passive and predictable system to one that functions more cooperatively, responsively and organically.

Transforming our nation's grid has been compared in significance with building the interstate highway system or the development of the Internet.

An automated, widely distributed energy delivery network, the Smart Grid will be characterized by a two-way flow of electricity and information and will be capable of monitoring everything from power plants to customer preferences to individual appliances. It incorporates into the grid the benefits of distributed computing and communications to deliver real-time information and enable the near-instantaneous balance of supply and demand at the device level.

It will be:

  • Intelligent – capable of sensing system overloads and rerouting power to prevent or minimize a potential outage; of working autonomously when conditions require resolution faster than humans can respond, and cooperatively in aligning the goals of utilities, consumers and regulators
  • Efficient – capable of meeting increased consumer demand without adding infrastructure
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  • Accommodating – accepting energy from virtually any fuel source including solar and wind as easily and transparently as coal and natural gas; capable of integrating any and all better ideas and technologies — energy storage technologies, for example — as they are market-proven and ready to come online
  • Motivating – enabling real-time communication between the consumer and utility so consumers can tailor their energy consumption based on individual preferences, like price and/or environmental concerns
  • Opportunistic – creating new opportunities and markets by means of its ability to capitalize on plug-and-play innovation wherever and whenever appropriate
  • Quality-focused – capable of delivering the power quality necessary — free of sags, spikes, disturbances and interruptions — to power our increasingly digital economy and the data centers, computers and electronics necessary to make it run
  • Resilient – increasingly resistant to attack and natural disasters as it becomes more decentralized and reinforced with Smart Grid security protocols
  • "Green" – slowing the advance of global climate change and offering a genuine path toward significant environmental improvement

The move to a smarter grid promises to change the industry's entire business model and its relationship with all stakeholders, involving and affecting utilities, regulators, energy service providers, technology and automation vendors and all consumers of electric power.

(Adapted from "The Smart Grid: an Introduction," U.S. Dept. of Defense)

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