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A smarter approach

Robin Yapp - renewable energy blogger

Robin Yapp is a freelance journalist writing about renewable energy, health, sport, oil and gas and Brazil. You can follow him on Twitter or see his latest articles on

14. December 2012 - 13:09
From the recent devastation of Hurricane Sandy in the US, to the blackouts in India which left more than 700m people without electricity in July, the smart grid has never seemed more important.

While Sandy cut off power to 8 million in the US Northeast, the India blackout saw trains stop, hospitals plunged into chaos and airports relying on backup generators. Both crises offered a nightmarish glimpse of what failure to develop grid technology sophisticated enough to deal with major storms, dips and surges in supply and demand, could result in as global energy needs grow at alarming rates.

BRIC nations must be central to efforts to tackle this problem, if damaging repeats are to be avoided. It is therefore encouraging to see a wave of projects intended to bring smart grid expertise to the BRICs.

They include German firm Siemens opening a smart grid R&D centre in Brazil, the Ohio-based smart grid specialist BPL Global (BPLG) opening an office in India and the US IEEE Standards Association joining the India Smart Grid Forum. Honeywell, the US technology firm, is working on China's first smart grid demand response project.

BRIC companies are also partnering with western firms to bring smart grid solutions to their countries and other parts of the world. Ambient Corporation, a scalable smart grid communications provider in the US and ELO Sistemas Eletronicos, a leading metering technology provider in Brazil, have recently joined together to bring smart grid technology to South America. Meanwhile, leading energy scientists from the UK and China are joining forces to develop smart grid technology that aims to revolutionise the way electricity is distributed via national power grids. The investment in smart grids - with over GBP 4m funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and matched-resource funding from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) - will help both countries reduce their carbon footprint and improve their sustainable energy output.

But, worryingly, US utilities expect to see a slowdown in smart grid spending as $4.5bn in federal stimulus grants run out, while in Germany only half of utilities want to spend on smart grids between now and 2014.

The need for smart grid technology will grow more acute in all markets as networks expand and intermittent renewable sources such as wind and solar develop.

Keeping the lights on - and the globalised economy running smoothly - will require a collaborative approach. It will also require sustained investment in Europe, the US and the BRICs to ensure smart grid solutions continue to live up to their name.