As we transform into a high-tech, renewable-powered society, so must the grid we rely on to deliver our energy. Concurrent with those changes, the smart grid has emerged as the power delivery system for a new age.

A modernized grid is not just intelligent meters that can inform a utility and its customers about details regarding power consumption. The nation’s electric grid is a complex and layered system. The changes and challenges it faces are equally varied and diverse in their sophistication.

A recent GridWise Alliance study attempts to outline many of these points in detail. The report, “Realizing the Value of an Optimized Electric Grid,” was written by the GridWise Alliance Implementation Work Group in conjunction with Quanta Technology, a transmission and distribution consulting company. The alliance is a consensus-based organization, comprising various interests in the energy supply chain, with a mission to “transform the electric grid to achieve a sustainable energy future.”

The report identifies six key technical areas of smart grid implementation. They are the integration of renewable-energy generation and distribution, grid control and optimization, transportation electrification, customer-side application, work force effectiveness and integration of communications architecture.

Focusing on these key areas and effectively implementing them will benefit users, providers and society in many ways. According to the report, the benefits of a modernized, smart grid include grid reliability and security; more opportunities for customer energy management; optimizing assets and resources; health, safety and environmental benefits; and greater productivity and economic growth.

Finally, the report identifies significant challenges facing the movement toward a modernized grid, including technology readiness, market readiness and risks, realization of potential benefits, effects of financial support and customer engagement.

Challenges notwithstanding, the report highlights several instances of successful, effective smart grid implementation. For example, Oklahoma Gas and Electric eliminated the need to construct a new power generation plant from its 10-year plan by implementing volt/VAR optimization on its electric system. Southern California Edison achieved a 47 percent improvement in average customer minutes of interruption as a result of distribution automation. Pacific Gas & Electric achieved an average reduction in energy consumption of 14 percent on targeted “Smart Day” events as a result of its SmartRate program, a critical peak pricing tariff option that uses smart meter data.