We hear a lot about the smart grid and what it will do. What exactly will it do? Well, whatever you want and desire, since it hasn't been fully defined yet or built. Since it is still in the formative stages, you can project onto it whatever your priorities are.
But we do know that the grid, in principle, will allow measurement of grid activity at all stages from the source down to the end-user loads (that's you and me at home, with our various appliances). We also know that in most cases, along with "measurement" comes its complementary partner: "control".
I was reminded of this when I saw an interesting "build-it" article in the March 2010 issue of IEEE Spectrum, "The Smart Power Strip". which discusses a web-enabled power strip. (I know this is not the first one, and these have been around for a while; you can even buy commercial version--it's just that I happened to see this article and it reminded me of the subject). It's always an interesting practical challenge when you mix low-voltage electronics, web connectivity, and AC-line voltages and their high currents in a single box, that's for sure.
On one hand, it's an intriguing and interesting project, but on the other hand, a power strip or outlet which sees all and knows all can also tell all and soon control all. That's what worries me: inch by inch, step by step, for our "own" good, then for the "greater good", we'll have smart power strips and appliances that not only show what you are using, but will soon start dictating what you can use and when.
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.
(Correction unrelated to above: Last week, in my column "AC versus DC power distribution: the pendulum swings", I cited AC-power pioneer Charles Steinmetz and General Electric Company. But I neglected to give credit to inventor and genius Nicolai Tesla, who also did much of the early critical work and, along with Westinghouse Electric Company—sadly, that's a once-dominant name that's all-but-disappeared—built the first large-scale AC generation and distribution system at Niagara Falls, NY. ) ♦