Instrumented Interconnecteds Intelligent
November, 23rd 2008

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The bad news:  Because of inefficiencies throughout the utility system supply chain, the world’s grids are now incredibly wasteful.  Since there is almost no intelligence in the grids to balance loads or monitor power flows, they lose enough electricity annually to power India, Germany and Canada for an entire year.

The good news:  There are some folks working on making utilities smarter.  James Governor mentions John Soyring in his recent post, and here’s a and a four minute interview with  Ron Ambrosio  on what IBM is working on:

UPDATE: we’re creating a new animation where the five-year-old boy’s analogy more accurately reflects how the utility grid operates.

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September 18, 2016
8:21 am

thank for great information

Posted by: lkloveskin
February 25, 2016
7:36 am

This is a great article. I enjoyed very much reading it. Keep up the good work.

Posted by: Informasi Tempat Wisata di indonesia, asia dan dunia
February 20, 2016
2:32 pm

They are really cool. Wasting energy is madness,

Posted by: Kendle
May 27, 2012
2:42 am

Phil, yes, there is an RSS feed for both comments and posts. If you are using firefox, you can see the RSS icon in the address bar for the post feed. Here it is if you can’t see it:

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March 2, 2012
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Posted by: kvaropcarter
December 1, 2011
1:28 pm

I think the biggest consumers of electricity should be tackled first because there will be the most to gain (in absolute terms) from any incremental improvements. Start with Google whose server infrastructure consumes so much electrical power.

Posted by: David @ Buy Books
November 10, 2011
7:16 pm

Youre so cool! I dont suppose Ive learn anything like this before. So nice to find anyone with some unique ideas on this subject. realy thank you for starting this up. this web site is something that is needed on the internet, someone with a little originality. helpful job for bringing something new to the web!

Posted by: pacquiao vs marquez live streaming
September 17, 2011
10:29 am

Maybe there’s some energy lost in not balancing generation and consumption, but I thought most of the inefficiency was due to resistive losses in the power lines.

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September 15, 2011
4:15 am

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Posted by: Preston Ehlers
July 24, 2010
5:59 am

Dinosaurs are really cool. Wasting energy is maddening, and not that cool. How long before we can make this happen? And what’s holding it back?

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May 20, 2009
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Posted by: QuelmmesFut
January 29, 2009
8:41 pm

Do you know what kind of Government programs or company funds that are open to the public (entrepreneurs or concerned citizens who have ideas) to promote solutions to these problems?

Posted by: thatsmikey
January 29, 2009
8:34 pm

We have a very large coastline in Australia,in some parts waves are unabated,a simple concrete venturi at ideal places could generate base load needs.
A pontoon type wave generator was built a little south of Sydney during the war, no one in the media wants to dig into the truth about why with modern technology we don’t include this along with wind and solar.
The answer is no one can make any money out of it.
Much of the wave activity on the eastern seaboard is supposed to originate in the great southern ocean, lets see some developer buy that up and claim ownership.
Other than maintenance the system is 100% green, non nuclear, non polluting, and remember cheap power gives our industry an advantage over countries without the coastline or the will to break the nexus between energy and profit ergo. petrol.
That pontoon made during the war probably only served to prove how powerful the sea is and how fragile it was, but we can do it now.
Give any engineer a chance to go as far as a computer model this may be the answer.

Posted by: John
January 29, 2009
12:04 pm

Centralized grid is the problem, the solution is decentralized power distribution but that is something neither the governements nor the big power companies want because it means more freedom for you and less control for them.
Copper wires are obsolete as is wireless power distribution, unless the planet itself can be tapped as some sort of giant generator. cf : Tesla

Posted by: s0l
January 29, 2009
1:43 am

they could monitor their usage and be able to compare how much they are sending and how much the customer is using and decrease or increase depending on how much they need. You might ask how would they know when to increase it so the customer isn’t slowed down by this they would just always have it a like 10% more power then needed and increase if it starts coming closer. And for the problem with alarm clocks resetting i thought that would be a problem but while is going to write the solution with the memister but that there is a much more simple solution. Computers already sync up everytime u turn them on, just like phones. They could easily be adapted to do that and also they have backup batteries on them. Great plan, a step closer to help reduce gobal emissions.

Posted by: Jeff
January 28, 2009
9:33 pm

What is up with this guy? He has not clearly defined how he will implement his solution. I want to lower the load does not fix it. He hit the problems everyone knows is present in utilities. As well, he uses buzz words like digitize. This man is a politician!
Other people have gone out and done things. We are seeing fridges that run their heaviest cycles when the grid has low demand on it. Energy saving devices are being introduced constantly. High voltage lines reduce the loss of current due to resistance. These are designs and concepts being realized and helping make the world a better more efficient place. Talking about there being a problem does not.

Posted by: Devin Grosz
January 28, 2009
9:23 pm

This is just a lot of glittering generalities! Is anyone in there a real engineer who actually understands electricity or are they all just a bunch of PR hacks like this guy?

Posted by: Steve Schupbach
January 28, 2009
8:12 pm

First video is retarded. The IBM article also seems a bit misleading “little or no intelligence to balance loads or monitor power flows”? Really?
What do you think happens when demand suddenly drops significantly and you’ve got huge nuclear and coal plants producing gigawatts of electricity? Where does the power go? This scenario actually happened a few years ago when a piece of equipment failed–and caused that major blackout in the Eastern US.
Simply put, you’ve GOT to balance pretty closely power generation with power consumption. For instance, running a hydro or wind turbine (assuming no braking or furling mechanism) with no load causes the turbine to spin out of control and will destroy it (the load actually acts as a brake). Same would go for steam-powered turbines in coal and nuclear plants.
Maybe there’s some energy lost in not balancing generation and consumption, but I thought most of the inefficiency was due to resistive losses in the power lines.
That’s not to say there’s no problem in matching generation and consumption, especially with wind/solar/etc which are variable, but like the second video said, doing a better job avoids us having to build extra capacity that’s needed only occasionally–at the moment we actually do need a pretty intelligent system to tell those extra generators to kick in or to buy power from other sources (here in the Washington we buy and sell to California during different seasons–you can imagine why given the weather).

Posted by: Eremite
January 28, 2009
7:02 pm

I don’t know about other parts of the world but here in Australia we already have a very simple version of this. Devices like water heaters automatically switch off during peak hours and switch on during off-peak hours. The water stays hot enough that it doesn’t matter that the heater is off for a few hours. The signal is sent through the power lines and one whole circuit in the house is switched off.
The main proposal here is for every device in your home to understand when it really needs electricity and when it can get away without any the same way water heaters do now. The pricing scheme would become much more granular and would be conveyed in real-time to every device in your home. During the most expensive hour your fridge would not do any cooling and the time limit that you could keep the door open before it started beeping would be reduced from 40 to 10 seconds. The defrost cycle would always be run during off-peak hours.
You computer could automatically put itself to sleep during peak hours if you weren’t using it but stay awake during off-peak hours.
Air conditioners could anticipate peak usage around midday and could do extra cooling in the hour before.
All of this information (about what devices are using how much electricity and when they are using it) would be fed back through the grid to the electricity companies and the device manufacturers.
The upshot of all of this would be that your devices would become slightly more expensive, your electricity would become slightly cheaper and it would also become more reliable.

Posted by: Dave
January 28, 2009
6:08 pm

crisci said, “Will we have to reset our digital clocks every day? Will we be unable to tape missed TV shows while we’re out of the house?” That is dumb.. so what if you did..

Posted by: Andy
January 28, 2009
1:10 am

The inefficiencies come during times of high current demand. The limited size of conductors, as well as using copper-covered steel wire over the years, corroding crimp connections, all result in resistive losses that have more impact during high current draws than at low draw times. A program to upgrade the grid to welded connections and more corrosion-resistant conductors would help a lot.

Posted by: Mark
January 27, 2009
8:39 pm

The first video is quite a misrepresentation of how electrical power works. While it is true the electric is “on” all the time, the power is consumed at full capacity as the pizza analogy seems to imply. A better pizza analogy would be if the pizza guy called your house once an hour to see if you wanted a pizza and charged you 10 cents each time for the call.
The second video is more sensible. Power plants do change their output as demand fluctuates(anyone who has used a portable generator can hear a change in the engine noise as an electrical load is placed on it.) Peak demand times are the issue of the second video and they can be tough. For that things such as the ice-block A/C unit combo have been invented.

Posted by: Web User
January 27, 2009
7:20 pm

I just stumbled on to this and at first impression seems like a great initiative. I agree with Richard in that its hard to imagine what it would be like to turn a power switch that turns on your power at home like we turn on the kitchen light every time you come home, but how about a smaller source at the house. I’m no physicist, but what about some sort of amplifier/battery device at the home that acts much the same way a water heater would, storing energy as we use it.

Posted by: Pablo Majernik
January 27, 2009
3:32 pm

Has any thought been put towards pooling capacity across country borders? Surely averaging energy generation across borders would increase resilience/reduce the need for surplus? This would be especially effective if shared East-West, so as demand rises in say a one area’s evening, it would be dimming as areas next to it return from lunch or go to bed.

Posted by: Chris
November 25, 2008
12:11 am

The “Big 3″ U.S. automakers are in distress, with huge business problems to resolve. Why not leapfrog into the future and make the digital grid part of digital roads? Is it really such a big leap from plug-in hybrid vehicles to automated highways with vehicles that run off a road power grid (like electric trains)? Pull into an on-ramp, and your vehicle connects to the grid, sequences itself into the automated, limited access (elevated?) highway, and drives itself (at high speed) to your chosen off-ramp, all while running on electricity supplied by the road itself.
When you reach the off-ramp you then drive manually to your final destination, with the battery charged during your highway journey. Over time the digital road network spreads, so there’s progressively less manual driving required (and progressively less need for the internal combustion engine). Also, for “legacy compatibility,” you might drive onto a flat electric trailer which locks your classic vehicle in place to hitch a ride on the digital road.
The same road would handle public transportation, with scheduled service between on-ramps and off-ramps. Same for freight hauling: automated spurs would link the digital roads with freight depots. One digital roadway, multiple users. And it would just layer right on top of the existing interstate system, probably with elevated roadways until retirement of the old road technology. (Elevated roadways would avoid problems with fencing.) With automated sequencing, two lanes (one in each direction) would have enormous capacity, and if a vehicle has problems a two-lane road could still use the one remaining lane to sequence traffic around it.

Posted by: Timothy Sipples
November 24, 2008
11:46 pm

Presumably the same digital grid could also supply time signals and activations, so there would be no need for distributed intelligence in devices such as video recorders and “smart” thermostats. Think of this feature as “Wake on Grid.”
It would be nice also to rethink user interfaces for certain devices. They should make it simple to save energy. For example, for a dishwasher or washing machine, how about two simple start buttons: “Start Now” and “Start Smarter”? (Put the “Smart Smarter” button first.) Anything more complicated could be part of a Web-based control interface.
It is incredible how much energy we waste, on a total lifecycle basis. As yet another example, why doesn’t every printer support automatic duplexing, by default? That feature alone would reduce paper (and associated energy to produce it) consumption by up to 50%. How about motion sensors in all consumer lighting, so that if there is no motion sensed the fixture will first dim then extinguish. With a digital grid that motion sensing can be built in, and the lighting systems can leverage that information.

Posted by: Timothy Sipples
November 24, 2008
9:44 pm

Phil, yes, there is an RSS feed for both comments and posts. If you are using firefox, you can see the RSS icon in the address bar for the post feed. Here it is if you can’t see it:

Posted by: Adam Christensen
November 24, 2008
8:13 pm

Not directly related to this post (great video, though), but I noticed that there is an RSS feed for comments, but not for posts. Are there any plans to add a feed for the blog itself?

Posted by: Phil K.
November 24, 2008
8:02 pm

Pat – there’s a lot of work in progress to solve these problems. take a look:

Posted by: Tim Washer
November 24, 2008
7:57 pm

Richard – Thanks for the comment. the idea would be not to cut the energy flow completely to your home, but to better match the flow with how much energy you would normally use during the day for taping TV shows while you’re out and keeping the digital clocks running. Agreed, the pizza analogy isn’t perfect, but if you instrumented your appliances/clocks/heater so they could send info to the grid letting it know how much you needed during the day, we thought it would be somewhat similar to ordering the amount of pizza you want, only when you want it. For a better overview of the ideas, please see this page:

Posted by: Tim Washer
November 24, 2008
5:21 pm

Call me dumb but, does this mean our outlook for the future will include an expectation that we save energy by cutting our energy flow during pre-defined “non-use” hours? Will we have to reset our digital clocks every day? Will we be unable to tape missed TV shows while we’re out of the house? Will we have to come home to a freezing cold home in the winter? doesnt it cost more to reheat the house each day than to maintain a constant temperature? I think pizza delivery and enery delivery belong in the apples and oranges category. You need one supply to be ongoing and the other to be on demand.

Posted by: Richard
November 24, 2008
9:45 am

we know all this… what are we doing to fix it?

Posted by: pat crisci
November 24, 2008
9:24 am

Dinosaurs are really cool. Wasting energy is maddening, and not that cool. How long before we can make this happen? And what’s holding it back?

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December 25, 2009
9:50 pm

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