No question about it, the "smart grid" is a hot topic. It brings the potential save energy and customer money, as well as reduces power-plant needs, and who can argue with that? Google is involved, the IEEE has a formal standards committee; all the industry players are getting in on the project. as one of the "next big things".
It has the promise of a real pot of at the end of the rainbow, with product demand in hundreds of millions of units at all levels of the electronics food chain: sensors and transducers, embedded microcontrollers, power-line and wireless communication links, internal and external interfaces, system-management protocols and smart software. While we are not sure what it actually final configurati0on and capabilities will be, it's likely be some combination of smart meters, a more sophisticated power-line network, and energy-monitoring and management software. Analog, RF, power, microcontrollers: all will be critical hardware building blocks for the smart grid.
But it also brings the threat of invasion of privacy, intrusive "big brother" snooping and management of your household activities, and detailed reporting. Along with the smart grid comes knowledge–to some unclear extent–of what you are doing and when you are doing it. As appliances get embedded tags, the grid may tell more than just how much power you are using, and perhaps suggest load leveling and management, it can start imposing directives and turning your appliances on and off ("today, we will not let you use your washing machine between 3:00 and 5:00 pm.")
If you are concerned, worried, thrilled, or just plain curious about the social implications of the smart grid, check out session ST-1, "Smart Grid Implementation to Intrusion" at the Embedded Systems Conference, Tuesday, April 27. Yes, it's early in the morning (7:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m.), but who knows?–perhaps in the future, under "smart gird" management algorithms and directives, that's when all such sessions will have to be held. ♦