Japan’s smart grid pursuit slow off mark

The term "smart grid" is coming up a lot as the United States prepares to replace its aging electricity infrastructure. While President Barack Obama pledged $3.4 billion in 2009 to spur an early transition to the new distribution grid, Japan isn’t expected to follow anytime soon.

What are smart grids and how are they being addressed in Japan?

Following are some questions and answers about the future technological shift:

What is a smart grid?

A smart grid is a new electricity distribution system that will make greater use of power from both traditional and renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, to stabilize supply and maximize efficiency.

Unlike conventional power grids, smart grids will automatically control supply and demand by monitoring two-way communications between producers and consumers.

This communications network will involve the use of a "smart meter" that estimates both power output and consumption at each household or company. The new technology will tell consumers when electricity demand, and hence prices, are at their highest, inducing them to reduce consumption at these times. It will also provide utilities with data they can use to regulate power supplies and balance output with consumption.

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