|Education for a Smart Grid and Green Technology|
By Fred Etcheverry
The Inspired Economist
January 6, 20092
Barack Obama has pledged a stimulus package to resuscitate the economy. His plan
contains a public works component. Certainly, repairing the nation’s dilapidated
roads and bridges will help solve the high unemployment in construction. While
such a project should have high priority, redesigning and rebuilding the
electric grid should also have a high priority.
Such a state-of-the-art “smart grid” can increase the efficiency of green energy
sources. It will require a trained workforce and extensive educational programs.
A smart grid is the computerized version of the network that brings us our
electricity. It utilizes the instrument and control technology that is
commonplace in factories. It will insure that power is delivered where and when
it is needed and energy sources — especially green sources — are used most efficiently.
Take a final look at your electric meter. It is a masterpiece of ninetieth
century technology. It’s an analog computer. It contains a motor with a rate of
rotation proportional to the product of current and voltage (power) and a
clock-like mechanism that integrates power over time to give energy measured in
kilowatt-hours displayed on dials read by a person going door-to-door. Its
biggest disadvantage is that it cannot tell when the energy is consumed.
Electricity is an extremely perishable commodity. It’s often abundant when their
is little demand and scarce when needed. Except for limited pumping of water
back up over hydroelectric generators, electricity cannot be stored.
A smart grid will send signals to customers telling them the cost of electricity
based on supply and demand. Programmable “smart” appliances such as dish and
laundry washers, air conditioners and electric car battery chargers will
postpone their service until cheap power is available.
Green sources such as solar and wind energy are especially amenable to smart
grid management. Both are intermittent. Solar voltaic can only deliver power
during the day. While geographic distribution can improve the negative impact of
intermittent winds, distant transmission results in loss. A smart grid can best
manage these green sources and minimize losses.
A smart grid can use electric car batteries to store energy. As long as the
charger knows when the car is needed, it can turn the charging on and off and
even sell some of its energy back to the grid.
A smart grid and smart appliances are just a part of the coming green technology
for which we will need a workforce trained in all disciplines. Don’t forget arts
and humanities since they give us prospective.
Returning a system to its pre-broken state is not an effective way to solve the
problems of a device or institution. But some are suggesting that we do just that.
Handing out money to buy the same old junk will not solve our problems. The real
value of things is how they improve our lives. The real value of our home is its
community and infrastructure. Intelligent public works programs — especially
rebuilding education — can increase real values.
John Maynard Keynes gave an example of the value of public work projects. If you
give a man a shovel and pay him to dig holes, you sustain the man and the shovel
maker. If the holes are of no value then you have increased the money supply
without any added value. If the holes improve or build a needed road then the
money paid represents increased value.