The technology is shovel-ready. Utilities are beginning to make the big move and bring smart grid services to customers. But what if the American public doesn’t bite? Cutting-edge technologies designed to increase energy efficiency and control electricity demand are only as useful as the owner who fully utilizes them.
The Platts Smart Grid Policy and Implementation Forum kicked off this morning with a keynote address from Dr. Alicia Jackson, the Science Policy Adviser to the Chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, Senator Jeff Bingaman.
In the United States, electricity is generally something that we take for granted. We flip a switch and a light illuminates the room. Yet the system behind that switch is extremely complex and increasingly inefficient. Luckily, entrepreneurs, utility owners, and policymakers are collaborating to address such inefficiencies with the application of digital technology. The smart grid. You’ve probably heard the term before. In this four-part series, we will explore what exactly the smart grid is, why our current grid is inadequate, how we will benefit from a smart energy grid, and exactly where we stand today in upgrading our electrical grid. The final section will also look at what this all means for solar energy. First, let’s try to understand what the news media and policymakers mean when they talk about the smart grid.
In Florida, where air conditioning is considered more of a human right than a luxury, what is apparently the country's very first solar-powered central AC unit has been installed. With a price tag of about twice that of a standard unit, this Sedna Air system uses the sun to superheat its environmentally-friendly fluid. This means the compressor doesn't have to do anything but pump. And that means the unit saves mongo electricity. Usually, the compressor literally compresses the refrigerant fluid to produce heat, changing it from a cool low-pressure gas to a hot high-pressure gas that flows through the condenser to become liquid. That cooled liquid then absorbs heat from the building and changes back to gas and cycles into the compressor again. (Now you know enough about air conditioners to bore your friends at parties--congratulations!)
So you know how the electricity created by solar panels comes from the fact that when a photon of light hits the semiconductor material, it displaces an electron, and the movement of the loose electrons is an electric current? (If you don't, we explain it a bit more fully here.) The amount of energy created by a solar panel is therefore limited by the number of electrons it can send skittering about. Researchers have successfully replicated the results of an experiment in which certain semiconductors have yield more than one electron per absorbed photon. Cool, right? If the mad scientists of the world can figure out how to replicate these results reliably and begin using these super-productive semiconductor materials in solar panels, it could mean a bump up to over 40% efficiency (as opposed to the current max, which is around 30% in a lab setting and much less in the real world).
Read this press release and see if you don't start humming the Jetsons theme song to yourself: Future Transportation: Powered by Electricity. Pretty standard title, right? You're thinking, Of course the future will be powered by electricity. What kind might this piece focus on--some new kind of solar, holographic maybe? No? How about...MAGNET POWER!