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Smart Grid technology comes to Idaho

The Idaho Environmental Forum had a great discussion this week about Smart Grid technology. Some of this work already is under way in Idaho, I was pleased to hear.

John Gardner, Associate Vice President for Energy Research, Policy and Campus Sustainability at Boise State University, kicked things off with excellent basic education about Smart Grid, and then Dave Angell from Idaho Power showed some of the smart meter technology that Idaho Power is dabbling with in residential markets.

Smart Grid is a relatively new term that refers to the intersection of computerized information technology with our electric transmission grid.

Gardner showed us this cool graphic explaining how electric power is typically generated and distributed to all of us earthlings. We get power from many sources such as coal plants, hydroelectric dams and renewable sources. John’s graphic showed a water faucet pouring electricity onto a countertop, and then it spilled off into the distribution network from there.

John’s point is that our electrical distribution grid wastes a lot of electricity because it was built a long time ago — well before we had the kind of computer technology we have today. Our production plants crank out a lot of power, and sometimes they’re cranking out tons of power when we need it the least, like when the rivers are peaking and producing lots of electricity, when there is very little demand.

Expert predict that by making our electric grid “smarter,” we could save $46 billion to $117 billion in the next 20 years on a national basis.

The Idaho Power Co. is installing smart meters in residential households. The technology allows people at IPC to track in much more detail how much electricity people are using, and they can do it remotely from a computer. The advanced meters will allow them to experiment with time-of-day pricing (more expensive electricity at peak hours). It’s unclear whether that will lead to less energy used or not.

John also noted that Marcia Franklin from Idaho Public TV once asked him, “Can I have a meter that shows me where my electricity comes from?” He wondered out loud if people knew where their electricity came from … would they take extra measures to use less?

There’s much more to come from Smart Grid discussions. It’s cool to see that Idaho has a start on this much-needed initiative, and hopefully we’ll see more action to use our electric power more efficiently, which will reduce the need for new power sources, and ultimately, save all of us money and preserve the environment.