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The Smarter Electric Grid of the Future

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The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology's George Arnold recently detailed his vision for what a smart electric grid would look like in 2020. Houses will have roof shingles made of light-sensitive materials that make electricity to help power the home. Twenty percent or more of electricity generated by the local utility will be from renewable resources such as wind or solar power. Many homes will donate excess electricity they create from the roof-top solar cells to the general grid. Smart meters will allow utilities to charge different rates for electricity during different times of the day, and household appliances will be equipped with microchips that will enable them to turn on when the cost of electricity is lowest.

Arnold says the smart grid also may carry Internet information over lines now dedicated solely to electricity. "Enernet is our name for a system that combines energy and information," he says.

Converting two-thirds of the cars to plug-in style hybrids would cut oil imports to the United States by half and would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent, according to Arnold. However, that change will likely require upgrades in several parts of the electrical equipment that help deliver electricity to homes.

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