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Much of the focus in the energy debate today surrounds the switch from heavily polluting fossil fuels, to greener and more renewable alternatives for electricity production. However, much greater gains are to be had from the increase of efficiency throughout the power system, from production through to the end user.

Smart Grids and Smart Buildings lie at the heart of efficiency, they represent the power station you don’t need to build.

In our report The Market for Connecting Smart Grid with BEMS 2013 to 2017 we argue it is imperative that Smart Buildings and Smart Grids work together to both achieve the maximum benefits in reducing energy consumption; and at the same time for Smart Buildings to feed distributed clean energy into the grid allowing the Utilities to reduce their CO2 emissions by gradually closing down central fossil fired generating plants.

The modern energy industry is characterised by its diversity. Traditional sources of energy, such as coal, oil, gas and nuclear; have been joined by more environmentally friendly forms of energy, such as solar, wind, geothermal, tidal, biomass, waste-to-energy and hydroelectric.

Governments and utility companies are forced to balance multiple, sometimes contrasting, objectives from numerous sources of energy, each with their own advantages and limitations. So the systems needed to manage power distribution most efficiently, need to be intelligent and flexible in order to cope with, and make the most of, modern renewable energy sources.


Nuclear, for example, is a stable base-load energy source but is not flexible enough to react to demand. Natural gas power plants, on the other hand, can be shutdown, restarted or production adjusted to meet demand, but burn fossil fuels, to the detriment of the environment. While solar and wind can provide environmentally friendly sources of power, they can only do so when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing.

Any efficient system, which incorporates these power sources, will need to make the most of solar and wind, while remaining prepared for sudden drops in power from those sources. Nuclear would be the next priority but care must be taken to avoid unnecessarily shutting down plants, as this will create further inefficiencies. Gas on the other hand can be used to fill gaps in the power supply, from the sudden drops in solar or wind power for example, but would ideally not be used at all, due to the cost and environmental impact of fossil fuels.

In addition to these supply complexities, utilities need also to look at demand fluctuations in order to better predict demand patterns, and therefore use power supply sources more efficiently. In hot countries, for example, air conditioning is used heavily in the summer months; in most countries the use of lights and televisions increases power demand in the evening.

Sudden demand spikes are also common; the UK’s National Grid stated that the biggest surge it had dealt with was when England’s football team lost to West Germany in a penalty shoot-out during the 1990 World Cup. At 2,800 megawatts, the spike was the equivalent to over a million kettles being turned on at the same time, or the power usage of a city the size of Manchester.

Even in this simple example, we can see the complex nature of power supply and demand. Inefficiencies are inevitable if we are to minimise the chance of brownouts and blackouts across the network. However, the development of Smart Power Grids can do a great deal to predict fluctuations, calculate the most appropriate sources of power and utilise electricity storage where available.

Smart Grids are, therefore, the key to bringing unstable but environmentally friendly forms of power into the national grid.

Smart Grid’s, such as the SmartRate being trialled in northern and central California by Pacific Gas and Electric are showing the benefits of such systems. SmartRate resulted in energy savings of 203 megawatt hours (MWh) in 2011 and 563 MWh in 2012, from the 120,000 residential customers enrolled. It also resulted in about 8 million fewer pounds of carbon dioxide being discharged into the atmosphere. Making it clear that a future with renewable energy, is a future with Smart Grid technology.

Furthermore, it is widely recognised that widespread implementation of “Smart Building” technology could provide even greater CO2 savings than that of Smart Grid technology alone.

It is economically wise to prioritise and encourage the adoption of Smart Building technology, ahead of Smart Grids. Smart Buildings do not require the level of regulatory and infrastructural reform seen in Smart Grid implementation. Nor does it require a Smart Grid in place, in order to achieve much of the CO2 savings.

However, our Smart Buildings are not yet intelligently connected to a Smart Grid, feeding off the greenest and most cost effective combination of energy sources. In the future, each one of these elements increases the need and potential benefits of the other, leading us to a smart and clean urban future.

For more information on the market for connecting Smart Buildings to the Smart Grid, click here –