The need for solutions to the energy consumption associated with modern life has come to a head. The far-reaching implications of energy waste and reliance on unsustainable resources have spurred increasing calls for change, and deep technology and corporate innovation offer a potential answer to these calls in the form of smart grids.
The energy crisis we are facing now – with access to resources like natural gas becoming scarce and electricity prices skyrocketing – is only another (albeit alarming) flare-up of the energy crisis born in the 20th century.
The difference, however, between now and then is that scientific entrepreneurship has refused to shy away from the challenges this crisis presents. Continuing development of deep tech tools, such as smart grids, might be key to finding a lasting solution to the persistent problem of energy.
What is a smart grid?
A smart grid is an electrical grid equipped with deep technology tools that optimise energy use to improve efficiency and performance while minimising waste. And as a reminder, deep tech is technology that aims to drive innovations that make the world a better place.
In terms of the energy crisis specifically, deep tech is used to improve energy usage, systems, sources, and so on to combat the crisis by rendering current practices more efficient, as well as offering alternatives.
Smart grids are equipped with sensors that collect data on all aspects of energy consumption across the grid. Incorporating intelligent tools like automation and two-way communication of data, these grids offer immediate responses to conditions in real-time. Thus, making them capable of managing the flow of energy, understanding and exploiting patterns in energy usage, and containing any problems (such as blackouts) to the local area in which they occur.
How can smart grids help the energy crisis?
There are several key ways in which smart grids can tackle the energy crisis. With the technology available to us today, smart grids can:
- Construct a thorough picture of energy use in a given area through the vast amounts of data they collect. With this information, energy providers and governments can begin to develop tools and policies to manage that energy use and to prevent overloads.
- Alleviate the mismatch between the amount of energy required for a particular task versus the amount of energy available. Smart grids understand patterns in energy consumption and can help us distribute energy more efficiently.
- Identify and eliminate unnecessary energy consumption when paired with intelligent technology. For example, smart grids can turn devices off when they are not being used. In this way, energy use becomes more efficient, benefiting both people’s monthly bills and the environment as less electricity needs to be generated.
Most importantly, all of these interventions can help to prevent blackouts, which – aside from being a major inconvenience – also carry huge economic costs depending on the length of the blackout and the size of the area affected.
Challenges with applying a smart grid system
Clearly, smart grids have a lot of potential. But if smart grids are so great, why have they not been introduced earlier and on a wider scale?
One of the major issues with implementing a smart grid system is infrastructure. Many countries already have complex electricity grids, and sweeping changes would need to be made to transform these into smart grids.
What’s more, investing in this transformation requires a lot of money, time, expertise and the coordination of multiple players – including energy providers, governments and private citizens, among others. Energy providers, as well as consumers, must prioritise the shift to smart grids in order for the necessary resources to be invested into its creation.
Smart grids have many strengths that can be capitalised on when combined with complementary technologies. One example is the smart meter, which can be integrated into private homes to provide precise energy consumption statistics that dissuade people from overusing electricity.
One of the main challenges pushing current grid systems to the brink of their capacity is mismatched energy supply and demand. Take, for example, electric car charging. Although electric cars are on the rise in terms of carbon dioxide gas emissions, they could cause issues with smart grids. If a grid is not prepared for a huge wave of energy demanded by multiple people trying to charge around the same time, it may be overwhelmed and fail, causing a black out.
To meet higher waves of demand in other areas, smart grids can monitor and reduce electricity consumption where controllers and sensors detect that the energy use is not necessary (like in empty office buildings after work hours).
Current smart grid companies and technologies to keep on your radar
There have been numerous incentives to invest in deep tech related to smart grids, including a federal grant initiative sponsored by the US government that has involved investing approximately $8 billion in electricity delivery and related smart grid technologies.
Tech transfer is also central to the success of smart grids. Another US programme funded by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, titled ‘Cybersecurity for Smart Grid Systems’, is dedicated to developing cybersecurity measures to protect smart grids; this example of tech transfer is fundamental to the creation of effective and safe smart grid systems. Licensing this technology will allow nations around the world to implement smart grid systems that are protected against malicious hacking.
Companies have also created spinoffs promoting beneficial smart grid technologies. Dutch conglomerate Koolen Industries, which is dedicated to clean energy solutions, launched the aptly named Smart Grid spinoff to offer large-scale energy storage solutions.
A step forward in overcoming the energy crisis
Smart grids are one element in the broader battle to overcome the energy crisis. The energy savings from an intelligent, automated grid equipped with sensors collecting data in real-time will go a long way in reducing energy waste and the environmental impact of powering our world. Further investments into deep tech, related start-ups, and even scientific entrepreneurship incubators or Lean Launchpad ideas linked to smart grids can help to ease the transition into this new way of supplying energy.
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