How do smart grids differ from current electricity infrastructure in United States?

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Basically a smart grid differs from what we now have because it is capable of distributing electricity more efficiently and of allowing communication between various parts of the grid.

What we have now is a system where the electricity gets dumped into the grid and sent out around the country.  It's essentially a very crude process with no information going back up the grid to utilities.  This means, for example, that many power companies don't even know when something has gone wrong until customers call to tell them the power is out.  With a smart grid, there would be sensors that would tell the companies what is going on and reroute power flows in efficient ways.

Smart grids would also allow give consumers more information.  We would be able to know, in real time, how much electricity we are using, what we are using it for, and how much it is costing us.  We would be able to know when electricity use is high or low and adjust our usage accordingly.  The power companies could then charge different prices for electricity at high and low usage times and we could save money by using it at low times.

Basically, a smart grid would be more like the internet, with all sorts of communication and information going in all directions than the current system, which is more like water being dumped in pipes and sent out.

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How do smart grids differ from the current electricity infrastructure in the United States?  

Electricity has a shelf life, meaning it is difficult to store, and transferring it from where it is generated to where it is needed also can cause power to be lost.  Smart grids make energy transfer more efficient, therefore saving electricity without any new power generation being necessary.

As the current grid was constructed piecemeal, as needed and as the country expanded, it doesn't make sense given our current energy production and consumption models.  A smart grid would replace the current infrastructure with one that is better engineered to serve the power needs of the whole country.  It integrates the various ways in which we generate power to maximize efficiencies.

A smart grid also prevents the massive waste of electricity that currently takes place, in ghost loads and appliances that are not being used, but still consume electricity, as well as water heaters that are continually on, etc.  So part of a smart grid would have to be extended into peoples homes and new construction as well.

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