Consider that in 2003 a massive, widespread, power outage threw 50 million people in the Northeastern states and Ontario, Canada out of power – disrupting lives and the economy. Why did this happen? Because of a failure to “trim trees” in Eastlake, Ohio – now that’s a dumb grid. And remember that only a few years earlier, the most innovative, high-tech industries in the world were shut down by blackouts caused by our primitive electricity grid. Overall, blackouts cost the U.S. on the order of $100 billion a year.
The smart gird is a not one idea but many technologies such as real-time pricing (smart meters), superconductive smart cable, and plug-n-play architecture that combine to produce a grid that is decentralized, self-healing, robust, and smart for both producers and consumers. Decentralized power, for example, makes it easier to isolate problems, “route” power to different areas, and maintain robustness in the face of falling trees and other problems. Plug and play architecture means that new technologies such as electric cars can be automatically used as both consumers and producers (via storage) of electricity, as needed, on the fly. Plug-n-play, the open-source of electricity infrastructure, will also open the field of electricity generation and storage to far greater innovation than is possible now.
I can’t say I know much about electricity delivery, but this certainly sounds like a good idea. Our transmission capacity in Ontario is pretty tight anyway – there’s so little capacity to bring more power into downtown Toronto they’re building a generating station in the port lands, and a new nuclear facility in Bruce County would require another high-voltage line. Might as well build the good stuff if we have to build anyway.