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A smart approach to conserving energy

A smart approach to conserving energy

Given the rising demand for energy, the electrical grid in the United States is being pushed to its limits. Electrical engineering Professor Qilian Liang is testing smart grids to see if this new, more efficient technology can help ease the energy burden.

What is a smart grid?

A smart grid is a digitally enabled electrical grid that uses computers to collect information about usage and demand and act on it appropriately. Since our current technology usually relies on workers to gather this data, the smart grids help improve efficiency, reliability, and sustainability of electricity services.

What do you want to discover about these grids?

The capacity limit on a smart grid is enormous in terms of information transmission. My research team and I are trying to determine the upper boundary of its threshold. We are using the Internet, cellular phone systems, sensor networks, everything available to try to figure it out. We also are attempting to determine what the optimum conditions are to get to that threshold, taking into account outside factors like humidity and temperature.

Why is this important?

Figuring out the smart grid’s threshold will help people plan for how large a grid they should build and maintain in their growing cities. If we know the energy capabilities of the grid, we can better prepare for population increases. As part of our National Science Foundation grant, we are developing a tool that will help cities do this.

Would switching to smart grids really make a difference?

Yes. In fact, one study conducted by the Department of Energy concluded that the internal modernization of existing grids in the United States with smart grid capabilities could save between $46 billion and $117 billion during the next 20 years.