RICHLAND, Wash. - A smart electrical power grid could decrease annual electric energy use as well as carbon emissions by at least 12 percent by 2030, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL).

The report, The Smart Grid: An Estimation of the Energy and CO2 Benefits, evaluates how different functions of the smart grid could provide substantial reduction in energy use and carbon emissions, both directly by using new technology and indirectly by making renewable energy and efficiency programs more affordable and potentially larger.

“By making the grid smart, we make it more efficient and more accommodating of renewables, and we’re able to cut down on the amount of carbon we emit to generate the electricity we need,” said Rob Pratt, PNNL research scientist.

“This report has significant implications for public and private sector interests engaging in future research, financial, and policy decisions in this area,” said Mike Davis, PNNL associate laboratory director for Energy and Environment. “Reducing our dependence on foreign oil and reducing our carbon footprint can go hand-in-hand and be profitable.”


Pratt led a team of eight authors on the report. They analyzed nine different ways, or mechanisms, by which the smart grid could reduce energy use and emissions.

Direct mechanisms reduce electricity and CO2 emissions when smart grid functions are implemented. Direct mechanisms include incorporating smart grid-enabled diagnostics in residential and commercial buildings, and benefiting from the conservation effect of consumers being more aware about their own energy use - a mechanism made possible by a smarter grid.

Indirect mechanisms are realized when smart grid capabilities are used to reduce the costs of deploying and operating efficiency measures and renewables. Using demand response and energy storage devices to bring renewable energy on the grid is one indirect mechanism that can reduce the need to build additional power plants.


The estimates assume full deployment of a smart grid or virtually 100 percent penetration of smart grid technologies. They can be scaled down in proportion to actual smart grid penetrations to estimate the potential reductions at any given level of deployment over time.

A smart grid incorporates multiple technologies into the existing electricity delivery system and enables more visibility and control of both the existing electricity infrastructure and new smart components, such as smart meters, automated demand response, and electricity storage devices. The smart grid’s much broader cost and operational benefits are provided through high-speed, two-way communication, sensing, and real-time coordination of assets all the way down to the customer meter and other end use devices, such as smart appliances and thermostats.

A basic perspective of PNNL’s analysis is that, during the next 20 years, smart grid technology will become pervasive in the U.S. because of the cost efficiencies and reliability improvements it provides for the electric power system. Once purchased, this infrastructure can be leveraged to provide the additional benefits identified in the report with little, if any, marginal cost.

For a copy of the full report, go to

Publication date:02/15/2010