The Electricity of Tomorrow

A vision of the power grid in 2050 applied to North America


Today, the power grid is really a complex web of interconnected local and regional grids with largely centralized generation. Each individual grid is akin to a wheel, at least conceptually: power generation occurs at the axis, transmission and distribution networks reach outward like spokes and, along the perimeter, end users consume power. This basic model, however, is morphing even as I write this sentence.

Trends underway today—or at least tangible from this vantage point—are likely to lead us to a very different model in the decades ahead. Yet the collective, legacy grids of the world, that comprise the North American network as well as local resources, will continue to influence outcomes. The future grid may well look like a more diverse hybrid than it is today. In decades to come, our toolkit will have expanded, enabling a broader spectrum of solutions to our challenges.

While it is perilous to attempt to describe specific outcomes under these conditions, a few technology-enabled changes may well become somewhat ubiquitous. Centralized generation, in many cases, will become merely a partner of distributed generation, and one-way power flows will become

Transmission and distribution systems may step power up and down, depending on time and location, and distributed intelligence will blur their distinguishing characteristics. “End users” probably will become both producers and consumers of power, aided by distributed generation, energy storage and transactive markets.

The grid of the future is likely to become an interactive, highly integrated, intelligent network that makes, moves and uses power more dynamically and efficiently than today’s grid. More on “make, move and use” in Electricity Today Magazine’s expanded digital magazine.

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