I can say with 99.99% certainty that if you are reading this, you may have a need for a new network, but it may not be a network service provider that you would normally consider. I’m not referring to ISPs for the fastest download connections, but rather the grid that brings you energy to power your laptop, tablet, or other mobile device. For such a technologically centered society, we rely on a tenuous network of wires to make sure all our energy needs are met. If we are to advance, we may need to consider some alternative networks and evaluate what makes an effective network for a vital utility.
After reading another article on the subject of smart grids from TechCrunch, I recall the necessity for a better system each time the lights flicker or go out for extended periods. We’re only two years on from a devastating hit during Hurricane Sandy, but I recall outages of all sizes, including in 2003 when the Eastern seaboard of Canada and the US went out because a tree limb overloaded a line. The strength of a network, as in a chain, is only as strong as the weakest link, and we need to consider how to add redundancies for increased effectiveness in a crisis. Some of the recommendations from this article include very sensible steps, but may not go far enough to cover what we need. Renewable energy and smart meters are only part of the solution as the network infrastructure must be responsive to unplanned events.
In the next stage of networked grids, a homeowner will have a multi-stage system to keep the lights on. Renewable energy collection from solar, wind, hydroelectric, and geothermal sources will come into a home and power all needed consumption during normal operation. Smart meters will also direct the electricity to other areas around the local grid as demand rises and falls. One challenge today is that if there is an outage, solar panels and other energy collection sources shut down to prevent overloads and shock hazards. If there is excess energy, a future grid might benefit from enhanced battery capacities or other energy storage such as stored potential energy such as producing hydrogen through electrolysis. If one pocket of users goes down, a resilient network will be able to maintain itself while repairs are made to the smaller affected area much like today’s holiday lights with one burnt out bulb no longer affecting the entire string of lights.
From a technology perspective, as well as a communication or Millennial perspective, the need for and benefits of this system would work to bridge the gaps in the system. We may not see ourselves as constantly connected in a wider system, but it helps get a focus on the bigger picture. If I can make sure I have power, and my neighbors are safe in an outage, then my neighborhood is protected from a potential crisis. Technology of all kinds, especially social media, makes us feel we are in control and able to reach anyone. However, if that system goes down, we don’t have the redundancies to see us through a crisis. By building in redundancies now and helping connect us with others in our society, it may serve to keep the lights on as well as grow the world community we wish to have.
Share your thoughts on interconnected grids and communication. How do you share the power?