Necessity is the mother of the smart grid

A recent ice storm left tiny Harvard, Massachusetts without power for four days. The holiday miracle that ensued will amaze and inspire you:

> John Sweeney, a member of the town’s conservation-minded Heat Advisory Committee, took a characteristically green approach to powering his home during the storm… Sweeney ran his refrigerator, freezer, TV, woodstove fan, and several lights through his Prius, for three days, on roughly five gallons of gas.

> “When it looked like we were going to be without power for awhile, I dug out an inverter (which takes 12v DC and creates 120v AC from it) and wired it into our Prius…These inverters are available for about $100 many places online,” he wrote.

> The device allowed the engine to run every half hour, automatically charging the car battery and indirectly supplying the required power.

Although there’s nothing smart about the grid in Harvard, MA, the anecdote illustrates in miniature some of the potential of smart grid technologies. Imagine that instead of using a gasoline engine to charge the battery, Sweeney had access to clean energy generation via solar panels or a small wind turbine. Now imagine that all his neighbors also have hybrid cars with big batteries sitting in their garages.

Finally, imagine a smart grid that acts something like an electric internet, storing power in batteries when excess is generated, and drawing it back down when demand rises. Imagine those batteries and renewable energy sources linked together in a mesh, providing power not only to Sweeney but to whomever in the neighborhood happens to need it at any given moment.

Sweeney is a clever guy with some technical know-how. Twenty years ago, email was only available to clever people with technical know-how. How times change.

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