The New York Times' Green Inc. blog has a piece up on Austin Energy's plans to put in place a smart energy grid in the City of Austin and parts of the surrounding counties. Work begins with plans to have smart-meters capable of calculating time-of use pricing (and I assume feed-in rates for onsite generated electricity) installed in every home by the end of next year.
The gradual (or perhapse rapid if economic stimulous money kicks in) roll out of smart electricty grids could be the start of a new energy culture. The article provides a good summary of the specifics for those not familiar with smart grids. But the general idea is of a grid where home and business owners are both producers and consumers of electricity and pay rates linked to the current overall demand on the system. That is exciting not only because of the gains in efficiency, resilience, and energy independence. It will spell the end of the current "it just comes out of the plug" relationship that we have to electricity. From that, potentially, will come a re-evaluation of the many needless ways that we all consume energy. You may not own one, but don't forget, we are the species that invented the electric turkey carving knife.
It's also refreshing to see a publicly owned utility taking such a strong stance. There is similar action at a provincial level in Canada; Ontario has pushed the hardest to roll-out smart grid technology, followed by British Columbia. By 2010, All of Ontario's 4.5million customers should have smart meters.
The meters themselves are clearly only a first step. But fully implemented smart grids have the potential to increase overall efficiency and so reduce the need for the construction of future major generation capacity. They can also more evenly distribute peak time loads and to make grids better able to integrate intermittent power from various sources, two of the supposed "immovable factors" that commonly acts against renewables. If Austin carries through on its plans, and more cities and regions begin opening their grids to decentralized locally generated power, we could (finally) start seeing municipalities having a real, and positive, impact on climate change.
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This is a blog for news and views on the future of sustainable cites. A major revamp is in the works. Until then I am keeping this version up as an archive of my past writing.
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You can also find my writing on urban redesign and sustainability in ReNew Canada, The Mark, Sustainable Cities Canada, WorldChanging, and other more specialized academic publications.
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