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In the not-too-distant future, EMerge Alliance experts say, buildings will need to do the following:
That's where the Enernet comes into play. Conceptually, it is to power as the Internet is to data. It's an infrastructure built on the concept of interconnected "layers" of networks. As Patterson notes, neither the Internet nor the Enernet are point-to-point wiring distribution systems like the old telephone systems or today's one-way national power grid. Instead, they are true networks where the traffic (or data and power) can be passively or actively routed.
"The Enernet is basically an Internet that is designed and modeled for electric utilities," explains Karl Johnson, research coordinator for the California Institute for Energy and Environment. "Instead of having central, static, one-way power stations, you have nodes connected to the utility just like servers connected to the Internet. And this can create a reliable, robust power system."
The Internet is equally capable of distributing data created by large central computers as it is of collecting and redistributing information that was created by personal computers, tablets, or smartphones. And while similar capacity and capabilities should be available to the end user from the power system, they are not.
The physical Enernet is made up of two elements — devices and the connective infrastructure (the hardware), and the protocols and standards (the software). The backbone of this system is made up of many interconnecting, privately owned microgrids that can exchange power traffic with the utility grid, similar to local area networks (LANs) on the Internet.
For example, private building or campus microgrids could trade power with other privately owned microgrids, such as those owned by independent service providers, if public policy and regulations were changed to allow it. The development of open standards to facilitate this, EMerge Alliance notes, is a must.
Like data networks, the microgrids that form the newest portion of the Enernet will come in different scales, from small personal workstation power grids, connecting and providing power to everything on a desk, to ones as large as a neighborhood or campus, powering all the buildings there, to all sizes in between.
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