The idea of a “Smart Grid,” which applies information technologies and decentralization to electric power generation and distribution, was strongly endorsed by both candidates in the presidential campaign, and has been reiterated by Obama since the election. But I realized that I didn’t really know what the idea of the Smart Grid entailed. It turns out to be an interesting combination of changes not just at the utility level, but down to the municipal and consumer levels. I found this Smart Grid white paper (PDF) done by the US Department of Energy that gives a good overview of the project.
The promise of the Smart Grid is that it can make electricity generation and distribution more efficient and reliable, and can even help the consumer use electricity more intelligently. And like the Internet, decentralization means that the electric grid would become more robust to natural disaster and external attack. The grid could also better integrate more generation capacity from many different, smaller sources, including wind and photovoltaic. Sounds like a project worth doing.