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Technology Review's Briefings are primers on key emerging technologies that promise to be transformational in their impact.

The Smart Grid

Introduction

Electrical grids, the interconnected systems that transmit and distribute power, are at the heart of how we use energy. Yet despite their importance, in many places around the world these grids are falling apart. In the United States, while electricity demand increased by about 25 percent between 1990 and 1999, construction of transmission infrastructure decreased by 30 percent. Since then, annual investment in transmission has increased again, but much of the grid remains antiquated and overloaded.

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The Big Picture Power Control

  • By Stephen Cass

Smart grids use communication technologies (shown as red lines in the low wind and high demand scenarios) to tie together the transmission network (blue lines), power sources, and control systems. This reduces the need for additional power plants, allows renewable energy to replace fossil-fuel power plants, and makes the grid more resistant to blackouts and brownouts.

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