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Keeping the Electricity Grid Updated in Today's America

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The American electrical grid, as one of the great engineering feats of our time, is more than just an infrastructure for generating and transmitting electricity. The network powers everything from the economy and national security to the daily health and safety of citizens. However, with the rapid aging of network infrastructure, transmission lines and circuit breakers are over 25-30 years old. Indeed, the grid is struggling to meet today’s growing demands for electricity.

Under pressure

As the planet warms, severe heat waves occur more often, increasing water evaporation, leading to devastating droughts. All that extra moisture in the atmosphere also makes storms more violent. Climate and weather disasters have increased fivefold over the past 50 years. A look back at certain events in 2022 provides many examples:

Along with thousands of people living without power and not knowing when the lights will come back on, these natural disasters are incredibly expensive. Extreme weather cost US taxpayers $145 billion in 2021, and that number is expected to rise each year.

To add insult to injury, we’re just putting more pressure on our tense grid. Heat waves and extreme frosts increase the demand for air conditioning and heating. Moreover, while our transition to electric vehicles will help reduce carbon emissions, it will require a lot more electricity. Our grid is not powerful enough to reliably supply all the additional electricity needed, and grid operators are not planning for it.

With no end in sight, Americans face more outages and higher electric bills. However, the evolution of electrical infrastructure presents opportunities for homeowners to mitigate these challenges by taking control of their energy consumption.

A proactive approach

Traditionally, homeowners could rely entirely on the grid for affordable and resilient power supply to their local utility at a relatively flat and affordable rate, but that is changing. The electric industry often uses the term “behind the meter” to indicate the point at which the grid terminates at your home’s electric meter, which your utility uses to measure how much energy you use for billing . However, with the advent of residential solar, energy storage systems, and “smart” devices such as internet-connected refrigerators or thermostats, the grid now extends into the home. Not only are you pulling electricity, you are also pushing it onto the grid. This makes you an active player and provides opportunities to understand and control your energy production and use to ensure greater energy reliability and lower costs while helping to strengthen and decarbonize our grid. country.

Step One: Assess Your Needs and Wants

Rather than buying a solar home system outright, it’s important to think about your needs first. Looking for power reliability, lower energy bills, or maybe both? Are you looking to reduce your carbon footprint? Are you in a geographic region where natural disasters or outages are frequent? Is electricity expensive in your city? It can be useful to determine which devices you want to keep powered on and for how long should a network outage occur.

Step two: Assess the local landscape

Next, do some research to learn more about your local utility and how it operates. For example, what are its rules for installing a grid-connected solar panel or battery storage? What programs and incentives are available? Does your utility offer smart meters to understand and control your energy usage? Here are some terms to keep in mind:

  • Net metering: Some utilities allow you to sell your extra solar energy back to them for a credit on your meter, so you are only billed for your “net” energy usage. This can lower your electric bill while the extra power helps utilities serve other customers.
  • Time-of-use rates: Electricity costs more when demand is high. Some utilities provide rate information for different time periods (time-of-use rates), allowing you to shift your energy consumption to periods of lower demand. This can help you save money while allowing network operators to better balance supply and demand.
  • Demand Response: In parts of the country where the grid is most constrained during peak hours, utilities and grid operators are willing to pay homeowners to reduce their power usage for a period of time. limited. Enrolling in a demand response program with your flexible energy management system or “smart” appliances can help you save money. Additionally, your solar and energy storage can be aggregated into a “virtual power plant” or VPP. In this case, your battery may be called upon to drain into the grid during peak hours and you may earn extra money as a result.
  • Tax Incentives/Credits: Federal tax credits are available for homeowners who install alternative energy equipment or make other energy-efficient upgrades, including water heaters or windows. Many states offer additional incentives for even more savings to keep the economy running.

Step Three: Determine the Right Fit

Once you understand your energy wants and needs, as well as local utility regulations and programs, you can use this information to make decisions about the best solution for you.

For example, installing solar panels on your home in an area that allows net metering, using smart meters, and adhering to time-of-use information to do your laundry when demand is lower can help you manage your electricity costs.

Although your grid-tied solar panel will fail during outages due to the risk of electric shock, adding a small battery or generator can help keep your lights on and more critical appliances running. . Some smart home devices may even let you choose your power priorities.

Facing reality

Increasing power demands and evolving distributed energy resources are straining grid reliability. However, with the growth of clean energy solutions and falling adoption and installation costs, there is an incredible opportunity for utilities and homeowners to work together to achieve mutual benefits.

Today’s technologies are more available and affordable than ever to allow you to adjust your behaviors and gain greater control when monitoring and managing your energy consumption, reliability and costs in your own configuration. personal network.

The mission to decarbonize everyday energy habits and processes can be overwhelming, but the available and affordable smart home technologies are exciting. We face many challenges in this new world, but we also have the information, tools and power to make it better.

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