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Smart grid could reduce emissions by 12%

A smart grid could reduce electricity use and cut carbon emissions by 12% for US power utilities by 2030.

There is a direct link between the smart grid and carbon emissions, explains The Smart Grid: An Estimation of the Energy & CO2 Benefits produced by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL).

The report evaluates how different functions of the smart grid could provide substantial reduction in energy use and carbon emissions, both directly by using new technology and indirectly by making renewable energy more affordable and potentially larger.

“By making the grid smart, we make it more efficient and more accommodating of renewables, and we're able to cut down on the amount of carbon we emit to generate the electricity we need,” explains Lead Researcher Rob Pratt of PNNL. “This report suggests that we could substantially reduce emissions by deploying a smart grid.”

Until recently, research into GHG emissions and into the smart grid have been largely separate, and PNNL claims this report joins a growing body of literature which allows researchers, analysts, investors and policymakers to make a definitive link between the two areas. It also provides a business case for investments into a smart grid by utilities and others.

Smart grid potential

A team of 8 authors analysed 9 different mechanisms by which the smart grid could reduce carbon emissions. The report provides recommendations for future and additional research in each smart grid area.

Direct mechanisms include incorporating smart grid-enabled diagnostics in residential and commercial buildings; adding more plug-in hybrid electric vehicles to the market; and benefiting from the conservation effect of consumers being more aware about their own energy use.

Indirect mechanisms are realised when smart grid capabilities are used to reduce the costs of deploying and operating efficiency and renewables.

The savings possible from implementation of smart grid technologies could be reinvested to purchase additional renewable energy resources and more cost-effective energy efficiency, it suggests.

Supporting penetration of generation from wind turbines and solar electric (assuming a 25% renewable portfolio standard), the direct reductions in electricity sector energy and CO2 emissions would be less than 0.1% of the 12% total, but the indirect reductions would be 5% of a total of 6% across the country.

“The importance of the direct and indirect reduction mechanisms is in their combined effect on reducing carbon emissions," explains Pratt. “Some mechanisms proved insignificant, and the larger ones each appear capable of providing about a 3% reduction. In combination, they could reduce the electric grid's carbon footprint by a very substantial 12% or more.

“This is very significant in light of future renewable portfolio goals of 20% to 30% set for the electricity sector in many states for the 2030 time frame, with even higher subsequent goals being contemplated as part of a national carbon policy," he adds.

The estimates assume full deployment of a smart grid, or virtually 100% penetration of smart grid technologies. A basic perspective of the PNNL analysis is that, during the next 20 years, smart grid technology will become pervasive in the USA because of the cost efficiencies and reliability improvements for the power system.

PNNL's report also analyses a variety of existing research including related assessments by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and The Climate Group. The study was funded by the Department of Energy’s Office of Electricity Delivery & Energy Reliability's Smart Grid R&D Program.

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