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Community Resources: What Is a Smart Grid and How Did It Change Our Communities?

This blog is part of a series from Elevate’s Community Resources team to make climate topics easy to understand and implement in your community!

The smart grid. We don’t see it, but we interact with it daily! It’s hard to imagine life without it – it powers our homes, allows us to better manage our electricity usage, and avoids inconvenient power outages. If you’re interested in gaining knowledge on how our modern electrical grid works to enhance the lives of millions of families in our communities, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s dive deeper!

Smart Grid Technology

The smart grid is the modern system of wires, meters, and transformers that work together to power our homes and businesses. We connect ourselves to the smart grid when we plug in our devices and click on the light switch. The electricity grid is older than you might have thought – it was developed in the 1890s and evolved along with our ever-changing technology. Today, the modern smart grid contains over nine thousand electricity generating units, has over one million megawatts of generating capacity, and is connected to more than three hundred thousand transmission lines.

Here is a quick video explaining the smart grid in detail!

Key Points:

  • The smart grid is a modern system of wires, meters, and transformers.
  • It powers homes and businesses.
  • It was developed in the 1890s and evolved with technology.

Smart Grid vs. Traditional Electric Grid

Though the traditional grid was an engineering breakthrough, it needed advancements to keep up with modern life. Like the smart grid, the old electric grid powered our homes through the electricity that flowed through its wires, but it stopped there. We were only receiving electricity, and no information was being sent back to the utility company on whether we received it or how we were using it. Consumers also didn’t get feedback on how they were utilizing their electricity, which made it hard to cut back their energy use. It was also impossible to determine if there would be any blackouts to watch out for.

With the smart grid, we get two-way communication between utility companies and our homes and businesses. Now, our homes and businesses can report back to utility companies to inform them of issues that may indicate future power outages.

Key Points:

  • Traditional electricity grids lacked communication.
  • The smart grid increases the accuracy of future power outage predictions.
  • The smart grid shares how consumers use electricity.

Smart Grid Benefits

Our new, up-to-date electricity system has reshaped the way we live. We can now feel at ease that our utility companies are able to navigate to the source of a power outage to fix it. Here are some of the ways the smart grid changes the game.  

Improves communication

  • Thanks to the two-way communication between smart grids and meters, information on how we use electricity gets sent to the utility company and back to us so that we’re aware of how much energy we use.
  • Smart grid communication helps energy companies resolve issues that cause power outages and blackouts faster.

Reduces power outages

  • The two-way communication of the smart grid allows utility companies to predict future power outages before they happen. This way, prevention measures are taken right away to address outages quickly.

Stops waste

  • Since the smart grid provides constant feedback on how we are using our electricity, we can identify where we are overusing and cut back to stop unnecessary waste. Plus, utility companies can better reduce waste so there is a more efficient distribution of electricity to all communities.

Eliminates estimated bills

  • With the smart grid, our bills are measured by the system in real-time. This eliminates estimated bills so that consumers aren’t paying for more electricity than they used.

Allows for new pricing plans

  • Along with smart grids and meters came brand new pricing programs that allow consumers to save money or receive bill credits when they cut back on electricity during times when electricity is high in demand.

Includes adoption of renewable energy

  • The smart grid’s advanced technology maximizes efficiency and production and is compatible with adopting renewable energy options like wind and solar.

Key Takeaway:

With advanced smart grid communication, utility companies can help us communicate better with our homes, improve efficiency, reduce power outages, stop waste, get accurate bill estimates, get new pricing plans, and adapt to new technology.

Energy Conservation and Environmental Impact

Without communication about how we were using electricity in our homes, the traditional electricity grid made it difficult to monitor our daily energy consumption. It was easy to unintentionally waste energy, because we were unaware of how much energy we were using until a hefty bill arrived in our mailbox. With all this extra energy burning away at the power plants, we were inadvertently releasing toxic greenhouse gas emissions produced by fossil fuel consumption. Wasted energy resulted in an excess of pollution, negative health impacts, both which disproportionately impacted environmental justice communities.

The smart grid helps consumers reduce their environmental impact by reducing their energy use. Smart meters and thermostats use two-way communication to help homes and buildings become more energy efficient by using energy when it’s needed and cutting out waste. And because the smart gird has upgrade technology, it is ready to adapt to renewable energies like wind and solar.

Key Points:

  • The traditional electricity grid made us unaware of how our energy was used, which meant lots of energy was wasted.
  • Wasted energy led to an excess of greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, and health impacts.
  • The smart grid helps us see where we are wasting energy to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.

Smart Electricity Options

Our up-to-date smart grid allows utility companies to get creative with developing pricing plans to reward customers for reducing electricity. This helps utilities reduce energy demand to prevent power outages, while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions and saving customers money!

In Chicago and the rest of Northern Illinois, ComEd is the electric utility. Here are some great ComEd programs for users to take advantage of.

ComEd Pricing Programs

  • Hourly Pricing
    • Hourly Pricing is a residential electric supply rate that allows customers to pay the real-time hourly market price for electricity instead of a standard fixed-price rate. Participants can save money by shifting their energy use to mornings, evenings, and weekends when real-time prices are typically lower.
  • Peak Time Savings
    • Peak Time Savings is a demand response program that rewards users with bill credits when they shift energy use away from peak hours of hot summer days.

In addition to saving money on your energy bills, these programs make it easy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and relieve stress on the power grid. Learn more about these programs at

Key Points:

  • Save energy and money with ComEd pricing programs.
  • Save money by switching electricity usage to times when demand is low.
  • Reach out to Elevate for guidance on choosing the right program.

Smart Grid Solutions Enhance Life Quality

The smart grid goes beyond the traditional electric grid by using modern technology to communicate energy use to both customers and utilities. The smart grid helps us manage our energy use to reduce energy waste, power outages, and greenhouse gas emissions. Plus, consumers can save money by participating in pricing programs that give us more control over our energy use. With simple life adjustments, we have the power to enhance our planet’s overall quality of life.

Learn More

Learn more about Elevate’s work with smart grid enabled programs at, follow our Community Resources team on Facebook, or contact us at (833) 204-1992 to learn how you can start saving energy and money today!


Sources: Marisa Joyce: Community Resources Manager, Elevate presentations, videos, and

Photo by Tom Rumble on Unsplash

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