Smart Planning Plans for the Smart Grid

Today, I noticed a fun exchange on LITA’s mail list about ideas on modern/future library technology…and considerations for the Smart Grid came to mind.

Here’s the problem the Smart Grid will fix: A single electric car puts the equivalent stress on the Grid of an entire American home. Unfortunately, the network of switches, electrical lines and power stations that make up “The Grid” is really dumb…and it can break if a particular neighborhood suddenly starts charging even a handful of electric vehicles. That was the topic of conversation at Green:Net 2010, which was attended by reps from the major global automakers, California public utilities commission, Soon-to-be Re-Governor of California, Jerry Brown, PG&E and Southern California Edison…oh, and all the major software/hardware makers from the Bay Area and beyond.

The idea behind the Smart Grid is that all of these devices, computers, cars, appliances and entire homes and buildings need to be able to communicate through a communications network much like the Internet. Essentially, the power companies need to tell your electric car, please don’t charge just now, we’re having escalated stress on our capacity. This not only minimizes the risks of brown outs, but also can save money for the consumer, who can, for example, tell the Grid, don’t let my car charge unless demand (and thus price) is below a certain threshold.

Modern libraries with all their gizmos, servers, lighting systems, digital signage (and maybe someday robots), will need to start planning for the Smart Grid. One clear example is running certain automated systems at night when costs are lowest. Or dimming some lights during peak times (typically when there’s more sunshine) or putting signage to sleep when nobody is in front of it. Or hey, if your library has a budget to promote greener technologies, the Smart Grid would be essential for hosting “Recharge While You Browse” services.

And in a future (we can only hope) where carbon emissions are regulated and the world needs to rely on more expensive and less stable renewable sources, while simultaneously trying to keep our cities functioning efficiently, the Smart Grid in the library is just…well, smart.