For nearly a century, the electrical grid remained essentially the same. Yet, as electricity consumers we keep asking it to do more for us. Chill or heat our homes. Help keep our drinks cold, freeze our food and dry our laundry. Charge our phones, computers and cars. Deliver us electricity where we want it, when we want it, and for a reasonable price. And, just as important, pleasefind a way to integrate more renewable energy resources into our grid so we can move away from fossil fuels.
These demands are among a growing number of factors that are driving major changes in the utility business models. It is widely accepted that the grid will need to become “smarter” in order to find this optimal balance among the dynamics of supply, demand, pricing, consumer behavior and intermittent nature of renewable energy. Fortunately the grid is modernizing. Consider:
- More than 38 million homes in the U.S now have smart meters.
- The mix of renewable resources for power generation is growing: 74 percent of all new electricity generation in the U.S. in the first quarter of 2014 came from solar energy, according to Solar Energy Industries Association.
- Governments and utilities have invested approximately $8 billion in smart in grid upgrades since 2007.
Understanding the smart grid and relationships between utilities and consumers is among the core research areas of the University of Washington Clean Energy Institute, and the UW Renewable Energy Analysis Lab (REAL Lab) led by professors Daniel Kirschen, Miguel Ortega-Vasquez and their student researchers.
The research involves developing complex algorithms and mathematical formulas to help utilities understand power use and to develop economic models that will provide a road map for the optimal balance of the grid. One of their current research projects focuses on is the impact of time of use pricing, which combines an analysis of consumer behavior, electrical grid demand, and utility power pricing. Read more here: