The first true “smart grids” are already being built, but they aren’t where you would expect. It is not Boulder Colorado’s much-hyped SmartGridCity, built by Xcel at a cost of $140 million dollars. That is little more than a collection of smart meters and a fiber optic network. If you want to see a smart grid today with distributed load control, energy storage, and extremely high penetrations of renewable power you need to go to remote Eskimo villages in the Alaskan bush.
St. Paul, Alaska has a wind farm that uses intelligent load control including electric vehicle charging to keep the lights on for weeks at a time with no support from conventional generation. Kokhanok, Alaska has a wireless network that coordinates distributed loads while getting the majority of its power from wind. There are dozens of villages throughout Alaska that are creating these smart grids.
These smart grids are not being motivated by venture capitalists looking for the next Google. They are being built out of economic necessity. Without wind power, these villages are completely dependent on petroleum-derived liquid fuels. Although the Alaska Energy Authority and the Alaska Wind-Diesel Application Center helped jump start these developments, it is fundamental economics, not government subsidies or VC hype that is motivating these smart grids.