Want to keep learning?

This content is taken from the University of Groningen's online course, Solving the Energy Puzzle: A Multidisciplinary Approach to Energy Transition. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 3 seconds Our current electric grid was conceived more than 100 years ago, when electricity needs were simple. Power generation was localised and built around communities. Most homes had only small energy demands, such as a few light bulbs and a radio. The grid was designed for utilities to deliver electricity to consumer’s homes, and then bill them once a month. This limited one-way interaction makes it difficult for the grid to respond to the ever-changing and rising energy demands of the 21st century. The smart grid introduces a two-way dialogue, where electricity and information can be exchanged between the utility and its customers.

Skip to 0 minutes and 41 seconds It’s a developing network of communications, controls, computers, automation, and new technologies and tools, working together to make the grid more efficient, more reliable, more secure, and greener. The smart grid enables newer technologies to be integrated, such as wind and solar energy production, and plug-in electric vehicle charging. With our participation as informed consumers, the smart grid will replace the ageing infrastructure of today’s grid. And utilities can better communicate with us, to help manage our electricity needs. The smart home communicates with the grid and enables consumers to manage their electricity usage. By measuring a home’s electricity consumption more frequently, through a smart metre, utilities can provide their customer with much better information to manage their electricity bills.

Skip to 1 minute and 31 seconds Inside the smart home, a home area network, or HAN, connects smart appliances, thermostats, and other electric devices to an energy management system. Smart appliances and devices will adjust their run schedule to reduce electricity demand on the grid at critical times and lower consumer’s energy bills. These smart devices can be controlled and scheduled over the web, or even a TV. Renewable resources, such as wind and solar, are a sustainable and growing source for electric power. However, renewable power sources are variable by nature, and add complexity to normal grid operations. The smart grid provides the data and automation needed to enable solar panels and wind farms to put energy onto the grid, and optimise its use.

Skip to 2 minutes and 20 seconds To keep up with constantly changing energy demands, utilities must turn power plants on and off, depending on the amount of power needed at certain times of the day. The cost to deliver power depends on the time of day it is used. Electricity is more costly to deliver at peak times because additional, often less efficient, power plants must be run to meet the higher demand. The smart grid will enable utilities to manage and moderate electricity usage with the cooperation of their customers, especially during peak demand times. As a result, utilities will be able to reduce their operating costs.

Skip to 2 minutes and 55 seconds By deferring electricity usage away from peak hours and having appliances and devices run at other times, electricity production is more evenly distributed throughout the day. The power being used right now was generated less than a second ago, many miles away. At each instance, the amount of electricity generated must equal the consumption across the entire grid. Smart grid technologies provide detailed information that enables grid operators to see and manage electricity consumption in real time. This greater insight and control reduces outages and lowers the need for peak power. In control rooms across the grid, engineers will be able to more precisely and predictably manage electricity production, reducing the need to fire up costly secondary power plants.

Skip to 3 minutes and 43 seconds The distribution system routes power from the utility to residential and commercial customers through power lines, switches, and transformers. Utilities typically rely on complex power distribution schemes and manual switching to keep power flowing to their customers. Any break in this system, caused by storms, bad weather, or sudden changes in electricity demand can lead to outages. The smart grid’s distribution intelligence counters these energy fluctuations and outages by automatically identifying problems, then rerouting and restoring power delivery. Utilities can further use distribution intelligence to predict and manage electricity usage with the cooperation of their customers, leading to lower production cost. The charging of a plug-in electric vehicle can be managed over a home area network, or HAN.

Skip to 4 minutes and 35 seconds The HAN can balance the demand for electricity across the household, and prioritise between the electric vehicle and other appliances to manage electricity usage and reduce costs. With smart grid technologies and consumer participation, utilities can more easily handle the increased demand for power to run the electric vehicles, and ensure charging needs are met. By adding more plug-in electric vehicles to the grid, we have the potential to reduce fuel costs, lower our dependency on foreign oil, and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

What is a smart grid?

Before you learn about the psychological aspects to an energy transition, please watch this video on smart grids and use the knowledge you already gained in the past weeks of this course to reflect on this video.

Why would smart grids be a topic of interest to social and behavioural scientists?

Which questions could they address to promote smart grids?

Post your answer in the discussion below. For your benefit, as well as that of your fellow learners, we encourage you to respond to answers of your fellow students.

Later on, Linda Steg will discuss the answers to these questions in her introduction video.

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

Solving the Energy Puzzle: A Multidisciplinary Approach to Energy Transition

University of Groningen