Smart Grid

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A Smart Grid (also referred to as smart-meters, metered utilities, or power grids; sometimes mixed up with the broader Internet of Things concept) is a technology for monitoring and/or limiting the amount of energy consumption coming from a specific structure (i.e. building, home or vehicle) or a specific device (i.e. toaster, fridge, washer/dryer).



Much in the way that a "smart" phone these days means a phone with a computer in it, Smart Grid means "computerizing" the electric utility grid. It includes adding two-way digital communication technology to devices associated with the grid. Each device on the network can be given sensors to gather data (power meters, voltage sensors, fault detectors, etc.), plus two-way digital communication between the device in the field and the utility's network operations center. A key goal of the SmartGrid is automation technology that lets the utility adjust and control each individual device or millions of devices from a central location.


The "grid" amounts to the networks that carry electricity from the plants where it is generated to consumers. The grid includes wires, substations, transformers, switches and much more.


Outage notification

Smart meters can transmit to utilities real-time outage alerts (the so-called “last gasp”). Sometime this notifies utilities about outages sooner than customers can call in — a considerable benefit to both utilities and customers.

Power Restoration

Smart meters can verify whether power has been restored to all meters. Storms often cause “nested” outages in which there may be two breaks in the power lines to an area: one below (or “nested” within) the other. A utility may fix the break closer to the substation, but not even know about the second. Smart meter software can “ping” all meters on the circuit to verify restoration — and also notify the utility if some of the smart meters are still out of power.

Improved Monitoring Capabilities

With the right kind of back-end software, smart meters can specify certain meters as “bellwether” meters. Typically these are installed at high-priority sites such as hospitals, fire stations, and traffic signals. The software sends outage alerts from these locations to the utility’s outage management system for priority restoration. In addition, wireless sensor nodes can be connected to route data back to the home, organization or enterprise central smart meter, which then relays even more detailed device-specific energy usage information to the utility company.

Customers Communication

Utilities can use smart meter data to help keep the public informed. Since the data is already digital and much more structured than traditional analog readings it can be easily broken down and visualized on maps, charts, diagrams, or used to produce reports and other infographics. For instance, the Jacksonville (FL) Electric Authority uses Google Maps to show consumers whether power is on at schools after a storm. Likewise, Google PowerMeter and Microsoft Hohm (now defunct) could provide a clickable visual representation of each device in the house which would (when clicked) then break down the energy usage per day of that device over the course of a month (or other user-selected period of time).

Peak-Time Rebates

Utilities can utilize SmartGrid optimization analysis and offer to pay customers a rebate to reduce their usage during peak load times manually or via automated response (i.e. encouraging them to run their washing machines/dryers/dishwashers and other heavy appliances at night rather than during the day, or, to automatically shutdown power to certain appliances). Again, these programs operate only on a few critical peak days each year (up to 10 or so). For example, San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) customers who have a smart meter installed participate automatically — all they have to do is respond on event days, or not. It’s their choice.

Selling Energy Back to Grid

If customers produce more power than they use in a month via Renewable Energy and other Green Energy sources, the utility maintains a credit to be used to offset future net usage of the customer. In addition, approximately 20% of utilities in the U.S. offer green pricing programs, by which customers can pay a low premium to purchase renewable energy. Through these programs, SmartGrids can monitor what percentage of electricity needs are being met by green sources at any given point in time and reward (whether through rebates, offsets, credits or profit-sharing) the producers of said green sourced energy.[3] [4]

Remote Access and Control

The SmartGrid is being tied into ongoing research and developments into the SmartHome such as automation, remote access and control (which often times pre-date SmartGrid rollouts significantly and thus don't require SmartGrid to be deployed, claim critics). Regardless of which came first Automation, Remote Access and Remote Control of home appliances, electronics, as well as heating, air filtration/circulation, water and security systems are being touted as a benefit of the SmartGrid. Certainly there are certain monitoring, check-in and triggering capabilities for the energy consumption side of home automation and control that would not be possible without the SmartGrid or a similar alternative (which one may choose to call "evolved/improved smart grid").


Many criticize Smart Grid technology for being too invasive and minimally useful in reducing emissions or energy consumption. In California, at least one angry mob was formed when a large utility company proposed metered electricity access which would automatically cut off electricity after a certain threshold was surpassed.[5]

Health Concerns

In addition to privacy and ethical issues related to sending frequent bursts of wireless data in order to monitor every appliance individually, there have been adverse health effects reported to be related to Smart Grid technology still in need of further investigation such as severe headaches, interference with pacemakers and biomedical monitoring equipment, neurological disorders and more.[6][7]

Faraday Cage


Privacy Concerns

Privacy implications for smart grid technology deployment centers on the collection, retention, sharing, or reuse of electricity consumption information on individuals, homes, or offices. Fundamentally, smart grid systems will be multi-directional communications and energy transfer networks that enable electricity service providers, consumers, or third party energy management assistance programs to access consumption data. Further, if plans for national or transnational electric utility smart grid systems proceed as currently proposed these far reaching networks will enable data collection and sharing across platforms and great distances. For a full list of ongoing privacy concerns and potential issues that need to be addressed by laws and policies that protect the citizens, workers and other people in regions where Smart Grid technologies are rolled out, see:

Security Concerns

Apparently with Smart Meters, it no longer takes knowing someone in the industry, power tools or really long secret underground powerlines and jumperlines[12] to your neighbours' house; instead, any consumer can easily use a low-cost magnet to disrupt readings, by placing two electromagnets diametrically on either side of the meter[13][14]. Due to the digital nature of smart meters, there have also been cases of international hackers being hired to cheat the system.[15]

Government Secrecy

Critics also claim that most of these issues could be avoided with further public input, transparency and debate on the technology. For example, one simple solution to the health effects of yet another wireless communications medium is making them hard-wired to run via the existing Internet infrastructue (such as local home/community LANs).

Legal Concerns

There are many critics of the government and energy utilities' proposed "opt-out" option where individual households may pay a $75+/month fee to not have a potentially dangerous and not adequately tested Smart Grid technology thrust onto them, and liken this proposal to extortion. Certainly in this regard, borderline authoritarian political regulations have left much to be desired, and their motivation is clear, that politicals and lawmakers want to seem like they are doing something about the environment, but rushing through regulations that mandate the use of an unproven technology is not the best approach (especially when its found the infrastructure needs to be replaced in about 5-10 years time leads to waste greater than that offset by any savings the current Smart Grid proposals can provide).

Business and Expense Concerns

On top of fees for those who choose to opt-out until the technology is more well-proven, Smart Meters have been found to significantly costs of electricity bills for a number of the trial households and population within initial roll-out areas.[16] For example, roll-outs in Australia concluded the technology was not yet mature and would increase average bills by up to $345/yr per household, and even more for businesses.[17][18][19]

Minimal Environmental Savings

Numerous studies into the efficacy of SmartGrid in actually doing what it is intended to do, namely, reduce emissions or energy consumption, have shown that deploying a SmartGrid by itself is insufficient to dramatically impacting the environment in a positive manner. Rather, critics say, consumer education initiatives along with rebates, subsidies or tax incentives designed to positively affect lifestyle choices to make consumers voluntarily choose to reduce emissions and energy consumption as well as seek out more energy efficient and environmentally-friendly products (regardless of cost) can be much more effective (as compared to negative reinforcements such as constantly increasing costs, taxing, monitoring, cutting power at peak times and threatening them legally to deter energy excess energy usage and emissions).[20]



External Links


  1. Smart Grid Panel Approves Six Standards for Catalog:
  2. SmartGrid Conceptual Model:
  4. How smart meters help fight power outages:
  5. Pitchfork-wielding mobs encircle smart meters:
  6. Assessment of Radiofrequency -- Microwave Radiation Emissions from Smart Meters:
  7. Doctors Warning -- American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) - "Avoid Smart Meter Radiation":
  8. What Is a Faraday Bag, and Should You Use One?:
  9. Experts -- Smart grid poses privacy risks:
  10. Privacy concerns challenge smart grid rollout:
  11. New electricity grids may be smart, but not so private - The Denver Post:
  12. Man Uses Jumper Cables To Steal Electricity:
  13. Hack your meter while you can:
  14. Hacking Smart Meters, Single Chips and Updating:
  15. FBI reports -- Smart meter hacking costs millions per year?:
  16. Why Smart Meters Produce Higher Bills:
  17. Victorian Govt (Australia) admits smart meters increase electricity bills:
  18. Eye-Popping Electric Bills Spark Smart Meter Investigations in Texas, California:
  19. Meters set to drive up power bills:
  20. Maine Public Utility Commission's smart meters investigation may ripple through nation:
  21. NIST SmartGrid - Project Roadmap & Goals:
  22. Anti-Smart Grid group files appeal of judge’s decision on referendum:

See Also

SmartHome | Energy | Surveillance | Green IT | Environment | Economy