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Smart Grid

Smart grid is a nationwide concept to improve the efficiency and reliability of the U.S. electric power grid through reinforced infrastructure, sophisticated electronic sensors and controls, and two-way communications with consumers.

The following links go to sections that describe when and where smart-grid concepts may fit into climate action plans at your research campus.

There are two parts to the smart grid concept:

  • Strengthen the transmission and distribution system to better coordinate energy delivery into the grid.
  • Better coordinate energy delivery into the grid and consumption at the user end.

Many large research campuses have already begun to build smart grids. Most operate electricity grids that include power generation; load control; and power import, distribution, and consumption. Because of their size and affiliation with electricity consumers on campus, plant managers often have better central management and greater opportunities to improve distribution and end-use efficiency than most electric utilities. Furthermore, most campuses already have two-way communications through interconnected building automation systems. Campus plant managers use these communications for energy management and load shedding, which are among the top goals of utility smart grid projects.

Ultimately, research campuses may play a central role in developing and testing smart grid concepts ultimately used to improve the national utility grids. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is investing approximately $4 billion to encourage the development of smart grid technologies. More information regarding the demonstration projects can be located at the Smart Grid Projects website.

Considerations for Campus Fuel Sources

Is smart grid right for your campus?

  • Do you have expertise in electricity distribution?
  • Do you operate an electric grid that includes generation and distribution?
  • Do you have an integrated building automation system?

Research campuses should consider the following before undertaking smart grid applications.

Electricity Distribution Expertise

Many research campuses include staff who are well versed about electricity distribution systems. These subject matter experts are ideally suited to researching and developing smart grid concepts and pilots.

Electric Grid with Generation and Distribution

Research campuses often own and operate an electricity distribution system that includes power generation along with primary and secondary distribution. These grids present a perfect test bed for smart grid concepts and applications.

Integrated Building Automation Systems

If your campus has a centralized and integrated building automation system, you are probably already familiar with equipment interoperability, central dispatch, and load shedding. These are common in smart grid applications, and familiarity simplifies the deployment phase.

Leading Example: Colorado State University Project

A widespread smart grid system is not in place, but several campuses have begun research. Some have elements of a smart grid. Colorado State University (CSU) is one example.

The efforts of CSU stand out because they occur at a laboratory level; the university also plans a campus- and community-wide grid management system. The InteGrid Lab at CSU contains equipment for physically testing power generation sources such as wind and solar energy.

On a broader scale, CSU partners in a community-based zero energy district called FortZED. The vision for this ambitious project includes energy conservation to reduce load, followed by wind-generated electricity to meet the needs of the CSU campus, the City of Fort Collins, and many other partners.

Examples of research campus smart grid projects include the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, which was the recipient of DOE funding for smart grid research and development. 

The following resources explain the fundamentals of smart grids:

  • DOE: DOE published a report titled, The Smart Grid: An Introduction. This is a primer on smart grid technology, detailing how smart grids work as an enabling engine for our economy, environment, and future.