The electricity sector could shave up to 18 percent off its energy use and carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 by aggressively embracing smart-grid technologies, according to a new analysis.

Smart grid-related savings would come from a number of factors, most significantly from a "conservation effect" as consumers incorporate feedback on their energy use, the study found. Additional factors include the use of power diagnostics to tune homes and smaller commercial buildings and increased use of wind and solar generation.

"The magnitude of these reductions suggests that, while a smart grid is not the primary mechanism for achieving aggressive national goals for energy and carbon savings, it is capable of providing a very substantial contribution to the goals for the electricity sector," the authors found.

Led by Rob Pratt, a researcher with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and leader of the lab's Energy Systems Transformation Initiative, the study does not aim to assess the environmental impacts of smart-grid technologies or argue their cost-effectiveness, the report notes.

Rather, it assesses the energy and CO2 savings that might accrue from a group of technologies that are typically justified because they promise to improve the reliability and efficient operation of the power system.

Based on published research studies and new analyses, the study identified nine mechanisms by which a smart grid can reduce energy use in the electricity sector.

A key savings stems from "demand response" -- or more simply, from conservation -- that arises in homes and small businesses when smart-grid technologies make usage data available. The study estimated demand response could save 6 percent of those buildings' energy use, which amounts to 3 percent of electricity overall.

Another chunk of savings, about 1.5 percent, can come from better insight into the breakdown of electric load at a site. New data mining capabilities are an enabling technology, the authors found, that can allow for more targeted spending on particularly beneficial upgrades.

The authors attributed another 3 percent savings to support for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. Smart charging infrastructure is a central component of new vehicle technology plans that hinge on charging cars during off-peak hours when electricity is cheaper and less carbon intensive.

The analysis is based on a full availability of smart-grid technologies by 2030.

In a side note, the authors point out that for all the savings potential in smart grid technologies, they will also slightly increase electric loads as electric substations get new computer servers and communication capabilities are built into a host of thermostats, refrigerators, dryers and the like.

"While the magnitude of this increase is small and may not be considered important," the authors note, "it does point to the need for technology developers to minimize the increased loads of smart grid technologies."

Reprinted from Greenwire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC., 202-628-6500