To date the information technology revolution has had an underwhelming impact on the utility industry. But that is starting to change. Utility infrastructure is becoming more sophisticated as the ideas and technology that reinvented communications in the internet age are being applied to utilities.
The most important, customer facing piece of this utility infrastructure overhaul is the smart meter. The smart meter has met resistance by a small but vocal group of consumers over privacy and (believe it or not) health concerns. But its importance to the future of energy and energy management cannot be overstated.
Smart technology will deliver the new generation of energy management and energy efficiency. This will be critical economically as energy is becoming more expensive. It is also critical environmentally as the developed world seeks to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels which still provide most of the world’s energy.
In the future a truly smart electricity grid will allow smart appliances, electric vehicles, distributed electricity generation sources (think rooftop solar), and public electricity infrastructure to communicate seamlessly and in real time to make better use of available electricity and reduce waste. It will also change the way people buy their electricity. People will be allowed to prepay for their electricity and monitor it’s usage in real time. They can adjust their habits and the timing of their energy usage to fit with market supply and demand. This will allow them to both reduce their own costs and reduce strain on the grid during times of peak demand.
The Industrial Age, which has benefited the progress of mankind for more than 100 years, has also brought about a significant increase of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the earth’s atmosphere. The long-term effects of this increase is beginning to show itself in the form of global climate change. We need to address this problem sooner rather than later.
Scientific studies over the years show two effects that are already beginning to appear: the increase in the temperature of the Earth and the world’s oceans are becoming more acidic. These effects will continue to adversely affect the global environment should they be left to go unabated. According to scientists, unless urgent action is taken, the Earth’s temperature will continue to increase and sea levels will rise, resulting in negative impacts on both land and sea environments.
CO2 is a naturally occurring gas and essential to life on Earth. It is found in carbonated soft drinks, beer, and champagne as the bubbly “fizz.” The layer of CO2 that exists in the atmosphere prevents reflection of the heat produced by the rays of the sun back into space, allowing plant and animal life to survive. But there are other gases such as nitrous oxide, methane, and water vapor that contribute to the prevention of heat escaping back into space.
Obviously, the problem is what happens when too much CO2 is emitted or trapped in the atmosphere. While green plants use CO2 to live and animals emit CO2 as a by-product of breathing, the amount added to the atmosphere by man’s progress and industrialization is causing more heat than naturally intended to be trapped, causing the temperature to rise.
One of the major impacts of the production of electricity is the increased burning of fossil fuels to generate the amounts necessary to keep up with the increasing demand. The use of natural gas to heat homes also contributes to the increased amounts of CO2, as CO2 is a by-product of the production of natural gas. Add to these industrial processes the production of iron, steel, cement, ammonia, and the refinement of oil necessary to produce gasoline, and the amount of CO2 emitted into the air increases dramatically.
Deforestation and land clearing, either by natural occurrences such as wildfires, or progress by man when clearing land, reduces the number of green plants available to use the excess amounts of carbon dioxide produced by unnatural sources.