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There has recently been the realization that running entire economies on power from a 120 year old electrical grid is something that needs to change. The United States and the European Union have each begun promoting investments in smart grid technologies. The primary impediment at this point is money to undertake these changes. In the United States, there has been a large amount of money dedicated to these projects, and so they are beginning to take off all over the country. These systems are saving money already though, too. Those who have implemented smart meters as a part of smart grid programs have found that their energy bills are anywhere from 5% to 25% lower a month.

Energy bills are anywhere from 5% to 25% lower a month
The technologies for these improvements have existed for some time now, the limiting factor has been that utilities are risk averse and also have not had any incentive to undertake these projects yet. Current regulatory environments don't reward utilities for improvements in operational efficiency; it is unlikely that utilities will voluntarily undergo these infrastructure changes while energy remains cheap and carbon goes untaxed. As things have been, costs of inefficiency just get passed down to the consumer.

The other major resistance to smart grids has come from privacy and security concerns. Some privacy advocates are concerned about the amount of information a smart electrical grid would need to collect to run optimally and some security experts wonder about the electrical grid being compromised if it is all computerized. The Department of Energy's Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability is working on improving the security of control systems for energy production and distribution by creating the Control Systems Security (CSS) program. CSS co-funds projects with industry to attempt to improve the security of our future production and distribution systems. The aim of the program is to reduce the risk of energy disruptions due to cyber attacks. It is also important to keep in mind that the current grid is not immune to attacks and that focus on the smart grid may actually result in a safer system.

There have been a few places around the world where these systems have been implemented, and the numbers are looking to go up soon. In the United States, upgrading to smart grid technology is a component of President Obama's stimulus package, putting money out there for utility companies that want to make upgrades. Even Google is getting involved with their PowerMeter. You can use the map below (coming soon!) to see where there are smart grids in operation or under construction. Use the suggestion tab at the bottom of the page to let us know if we missed a project (once it's up of course).

MSNBC - Smart Grids
Discussion on the pros and cons of smart grid technologies.
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US Dept. of Energy - Control Systems Security Protocol
Article about the security of controls systems
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