That’s the question asked in an interesting article from this weekend’s Burlington Free Press. Joel Baird, a reporter who covers land use and energy issues, describes a recent gathering of some of Green Mountain Power’s biggest customers. Hosted by the IBM Essex Junction plant’s Site Operations Director Janette Bombardier, the event focused on the possibilities of expanded “Smart Grid” technologies in Vermont to save energy and reduce costs for Vermont businesses. Despite increasing production, employees at the Essex plant have reduced its electricity use by 20% over the last ten years, and managers there see opportunities in spreading the so-called smart grid technology to neighboring power users.
According to www.SmartGrid.gov, smart grids are networks of transmission lines, equipment, controls and new technologies working together to respond directly to electricity demand. The current electrical grid in the United States was developed over 100 years ago when electricity needs were comparatively simple. The system was designed with one purpose in mind–one-way transport for energy from utility companies to consumers.
What makes smart grids different is the ability for two-way communication where both information and energy is exchanged between the utility and consumers, making it easier to ensure greater availability, reliability, and efficiency in the power supply. Through “smart meters,” these systems can also provide consumers more information about their energy consumption, allowing them to make better choices about their energy use. Through improvements in energy transmission and storage, smart grids are better equipped to utilize multiple, decentralized energy sources such as wind, solar, and geothermal. Additionally, it is thought that smart grids will be able to better facilitate the energy needs of new plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) that have recently been or will soon be released, such as the Chevrolet Volt, Nissan Leaf, and Ford Focus Electric.