Most of us take electricity for granted — up until the moment the power goes out. In those times we are reminded of how essential electricity is for our daily lives. Without electricity, smartphone batteries would not have a power source, food would spoil in the fridge and you’d have to go to sleep at sunset instead of midnight. If you’ve never considered what keeps your smart devices powered, here’s what you need to know.
The Electricity Grid
The modern electricity grid consists of two layers: transmission and distribution. The transmission layer is a web of high-voltage transmission lines that connect large power generators to cities, suburbs and rural locations. The distribution layer distributes power from the central transmission system to reach smaller, more dispersed electricity consumers.
How the Grid is Changing
Though the transmission layer has undergone many changes over the past few decades, the distribution layer has remained largely untouched. However, five trends are poised to re-shape the distribution of electricity.
1. The rise of distributed energy.
Every year, millions of homeowners obtain solar panels, forcing utility companies to wonder if this will be the end of their business model or the beginning of something new.
2. The intersection of the internet and information technology.
Billions of dollars have been invested into deploying smart meters, devices that collect information about a system’s electricity consumption and provide consumers with valuable insights. Appliances, thermostats and light bulbs are being connected to the cloud, allowing homeowners to track electricity usage.
3. Solar storage options.
The declining cost of batteries used to store electricity has opened up an opportunity for owners of solar panels to feed their extra generated electricity onto the grid. Solar storage is a compelling alternative to backup generators for homeowners living in areas with frequent blackouts or poor access to the grid.
4. The electric vehicles takeover.
Cars like the Tesla model S, Nissan Leaf and Toyota Prius have increased the popularity of electric vehicles (EVs) among consumers. Because an EV can cause about a one-third increase in a home’s electricity usage, homeowners are searching for new incentives and infrastructure that will help make EVs a cost-effective option.
5. The digital grid.
Startups like Gridco, Varentec and GridBridge are developing smart grid hardware that can control voltage and redirect current in a coordinated manner. The distribution network of the future will soon be less expensive, more responsive and more reliable.