Wirelessly-connected smart grids are often heralded as the solution to our electricity-devouring ways, and now an IBM pilot project in North Carolina has proven that a grid equipped with smart meters (digital meters that record power usage in real time) can save businesses and homes up to 40% in energy costs.
The pilot project, which began in July, outfitted participants with software from IBM and Consert that uses a Verizon 3G network to transmit information from smart meters to the Internet. The software allows participants to check daily energy use from the Internet, calculate a monthly target bill amount, and give the Fayetteville Public Works Commission permission to turn off appliances for brief spurts when the grid is strained and nobody is home. The Consert system can control up to 256 household devices to ensure that, say, the pool pump is turned off while residents are at work or not in the mood to go swimming.
Participants in the smart grid trial can only track their energy usage from their computers at the moment, but a cell phone application is expected to be ready next year. And what about participants who lack Internet access? IBM equipped Internet-less households with a wireless broadband connection.
Not everyone saved 40% on their electricity bills—some people just don't care enough to spend time tracking daily energy use—but the pilot proves that smart grids do at least have the potential to save consumers big bucks and relieve the pressure on utilities to pump out endless power during times of peak consumption.