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Smart things coming to power grid

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By John Bartlit

Last month’s Super Bowl brought an old friend back from The Wizard of Oz. The scarecrow sang 15 seconds of “If I Only Had a Brain,” as he frolicked on high-tension wires.

The last half of the TV ad was a voice saying: “Smart grid technology from GE will make the way we distribute electricity more efficient, simply by making it more intelligent.”

“Smart grid” means a local or regional electricity supply network that has ability to make smart choices. Get used to the term. As with computer innards, we can sense the wonder easier than foretell where it leads.

Reasons to be smart start with lots of people turning lots of electric switches on during daylight and evening hours, then off all night long. Picture bees manning switchboards. The chain of large effects is surprising.

The nation’s power plants and transmission lines must be sized to send the maximum power needed for one moment in the entire year, as on a super-hot day. If not, we have “blackouts” or “brownouts.” Yet people use only a fraction of this peak power on most days and every night.


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