Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

The Smart Grid (Hopefully) Cometh

March 24th, 2009 · 1 Comment

electriccompanyAfter a wait that seemed ever-so-slightly like forever, Wired‘s cover package on smartening up the electric grid is finally here. I wrote the lead essay, which is mostly a primer on how the grid got so FUBAR in the first place. The bite-size answer? Myopia, botched deregulation, and political bickering.

It was difficult to even address the tip of the smart-grid iceberg in 2,000 words, so a heckuva lot ended up on the cutting-room floor. For the remainder of the week, I’ll be offering exclusive smart-grid tidbits here at Microkhan—the geek-blog equivalent of DVD extras, as it were. Today’s dish, from one of the essay’s earliest drafts: the perils of distributed generation.

For the uninitiated, distributed generation means jacking backyard and rooftop generators (e.g. solar panels and wind turbines) into the grid. This will allow regular folks to sell green power to the likes of Con Edison. A fabulous idea, but one that could be done in by the trickiness of matching phases between the homebrew electricity and the stuff already coursing through the grid. A great quote that fell by the wayside:

“If a 50-story Time Square apartment building starts pumping out power the wrong way, it can disrupt the power in the city pretty quickly,” says Roger N. Anderson, senior research scholar at Columbia University’s Center for Computational Learning Systems.

In other words, distributed generation is hardly plug-and-play. The solution is software that’s placed at the gateway between buildings’ internal systems and the grid at large. That’s what Anderson and his cohorts are working on—and, one would hope, the smart-grid wizards at the likes of General Electric. How sweet it would be to bill Con Ed for buying my solar juice, instead of paying that mammoth Con Ed bill for slurping down burnt coal.

More smart-grid extras throughout the week, so stay tuned. In the meantime, check out a vintage Electric Company clip here.


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  • Subways and the Smart Grid

    […] As promised yesterday, Microkhan’s gonna continue with its week-long series of “extras” taken from the cutting-room floor of my Wired smart-grid essay. Today’s treat? How subways can become part of distributed-generation networks, along with rooftop solar panels and backyard wind turbines. […]