Friday, September 16, 2011

The smart grid challenge

The transformation of our energy system from fossil fuel resources to sustainable resources is one of the great challenges of our time, but opens also a great chance for establishing a more efficient and robust distribution of energy to the benefit of all its users. A way to do this is the intelligent integration of the behavior of all users (generators and consumers) of an electricity grid to optimize the operation of the system, e.g., by balancing energy consumption based on availability and demand.

In order to achieve this goal, we need to define innovative products and services together with intelligent monitoring, control, communication, and self-healing technologies: Electrical devices, generators, and energy storages will be integrated with local intelligence and a network interface. These smart meters will form a network that dynamically adapts pricing and distribution based on demand, supply, and network load. The emerging network will be a self-organizing smart grid which efficiently maintains existing services, allows for prediction of future energy and network requirements.

However, the challenge is not a mere technical one. A main characteristic of the smart grid is that it will allow consumers and suppliers to play an active role in optimizing the system. While this is a very positive aspect, it leads to new challenges such as social aspects like fairness and acceptance, economic aspects such as market stability and resilience against speculation attacks, and legal issues such as warranty, data security and privacy. Last but not least, the smart grid forms a complex system of interacting agents, which will require new models similar to those from physics, biology or economics.

The goals of the smart grid are ambitious. But considering the importance of energy to our society, there is no other chance than to work on it in a global cooperative effort. There is no time to wait.

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