There’s a lot of talk today about sustainability and energy efficiency. As a nation that has long been dependent on coal and oil, we are slowly working toward more green energy solutions to carry us forward.

Unfortunately, there are problems with our current energy systems and power supplies, and they go far beyond squirrels chewing power lines. Simply put, the ways in which we generate energy are inefficient and damaging to the environment. To remedy these problems, updating the power grid and using smart technologies are of the utmost importance.

Sustainably minded electrical engineers support the use of power grids to distribute energy through many buildings while reducing inefficiency and energy waste. Still, solutions like solar grids are not being used on a large scale.

It’s clear that there’s a long way to go to achieve widespread energy efficiency. The use of power grids is one way to get closer to that goal and help us enjoy a future of clean, green energy.

Why use the power grid?

The power grid has a lot to offer, especially when we think about finding ways to use power design that reduce the rate of energy consumption.

There are clear problems with going about our energy business as usual, but the good news is that new technology could fix it. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) states, “Our current grid was built decades ago and was designed primarily for transmitting electricity from large, centralized power plants, most of which use dirty sources like coal and natural gas.”

However, in the face of new sources of energy, this structure is becoming obsolete. The UCS continues: “…(N)ew technologies are making this approach to electricity transmission — and its supporting infrastructure — increasingly outdated. Today, power flows from many more sources — including rooftop solar, wind power, and battery storage — and the grid needs to catch up to the progress we’ve made.”

New approaches to designing the grid to accommodate for new energy sources could change a lot. There is a number of benefits to using smart power grids. According to UC Riverside:

A smart grid is a modern power generation, transmission, and distribution system that can automate and manage the increasing complexity and needs of electricity in the 21st century. The technology aims to: integrate and support renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and hydro; empower consumers with real-time information about their energy consumption; and assist utility companies to reduce outages.

The incorporation of green energy sources is one of the major benefits of switching to an updated grid system. Keeping energy efficiency at the forefront of design is key in moving toward more sustainable technologies. It’s clear that smart grids do just this.

Why we have yet to see more large-scale solar grids

No matter how you look at it, energy is a business. Traditional power companies could end up losing a lot of money if large-scale solar grids were to take off and see widespread use. More money being poured into green power supply from sources like wind and solar could mean the end of the age of coal and oil.

While some of our energy problems could be solved through sustainable electrical engineering, there are other obstacles standing in the way of large-scale solar grids. A big part of the current industrial energy system is old and outdated, and outdated parts that haven’t received as much maintenance as they should tend to waste energy. Industrial energy waste from friction is quite large. Fixing this problem would require major updates and new equipment — and that comes with a price tag.

While it’s clear that new smart grid technology would improve energy efficiency, understanding why we have yet to see more large-scale solar grids can highlight the broader issues at play. The electrical engineer’s challenge in energy conservation is, in part, to balance efficiency, costs, and future trends. It is a complex issue that requires further research and thought, but moving toward green energy must remain a priority.

The importance of energy efficiency

The importance of energy efficiency cannot be overstated. Think of your personal household, where energy vampires can dramatically increase your electric bill as well as your carbon footprint each month. The same thing can happen at work. Everywhere you go, energy is being used — and when it’s the non-renewable kind, that’s a big problem.

Environmentally conscious homeowners and office workers work hard to decrease their energy use at all times, and it would be a major improvement if the grid at large did the same thing. Electrical engineers can hugely impact our well-being, whether by contributing to green buildings, educating people on the issue, or working toward a more energy-efficient grid.

Climate change has pushed us to focus on the environment in a big way so that future generations can enjoy a habitable and comfortable planet. The future of this planet and energy efficiency on the grid hinges on our ability to adapt to big changes in design and energy sources. If we manage this adaptation successfully, our children (and their children) will thank us.