Consumers Energy Looks to Smart Grids

CREATED Jul 22, 2011

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Roger Morgenstern is excited for the future.

He's showing me a look at it in Consumers Energy's "smart grid" demo room. There are three rooms lined up, looking a lot like a laundry room, kitchen and living room, appliances and all.

But the typical household appliances here, washing machine, television, freezer, are powered in a slightly different way than most. They're all running on "smart grid" technology. That means they can both communicate usage to the grid and receive messages from the grid.

Where can that come in handy? Well imagine if instead of having to call the power company when your power went out, your house basically did it for you. Right now, Consumers Energy and other power companies have to wait for customers to report outages to know when and where they're happening. With a "smart grid", Consumers can start working on problems as soon as they occur.

"We'll be able to know more quickly when there are outages and we'll be able to get those people back and restore power more quickly," said Morgenstern.

The "smart grid" can also send messages to appliances too. For example, if a customer has a compatible freezer, they can set it up to run the defroster during off-peak hours on high-use days like during a heat wave. A compatible dryer asks customers who try to run it during peak hours if they'd like to run it when power is cheaper and more available.

Small tweaks like those are expected to spread out usage better, flattening the peaks that can strain power grids.

The technology is rolling out in Grand Rapids and West Michigan in 2012 and Consumers is planning on moving "smart grids" east into mid-Michigan by around 2014-15. Morgenstern says Consumers is investing $750 million in the technology.