Smart Grid 101 builds off of lessons learned in Electricity 101 and Electrical Grid 101. Together, these pages can help you better understand how we use electricity as energy today, and how we can do so more efficiently in the future.

Over a century ago, the electrical grid in Atlantic Canada was established to transmit power generated mainly from hydro and fossil fuels to customers. However, technology and customer needs have rapidly evolved.

What is smart grid?

An electrical grid is a network of transmission lines, distribution lines, substations, transformers and more used to carry electricity to customers after it is generated. A smart grid uses advanced technologies, including computer sensors, automation, software, processes, and innovative equipment such as smart meters, to improve efficiency.

Grids must balance the supply of energy with the demand for it, and smart grids help sense small imbalances faster. Smart grids are therefore helping modernize our electricity infrastructure to give utilities more flexibility and control. Smart grid technologies also give customers more information and control to help reduce the overall demand for electricity and reduce emissions at the same time.

What are examples of smart grid technology in practice?

Smart grid technology involves intelligent energy technology and software, but also relies on innovative business models, processes, and grid planning practices.

For examples:

  • Smart metering technology provides customers with real-time access to their usage so they can manage their energy consumption and ensure they are using more energy during off-peak times.
  • Smart grids help integrate net-metering solutions, such as connecting residential solar energy generation to the grid to improve reliability. The potential for integrating electric vehicles onto the grid for battery storage during high-demand periods is also being researched.

With added flexibility and control, smart grids are also helping utilities response to power outages or increased demand faster, to improve energy security. This added flexibility and control also helps utilities to integrate more variable source.

What is the future role for smart grids in Atlantic Canada?

Smart grids will play an important role help the four Atlantic provinces reach net zero by 2050 (2040 in Prince Edward Island). This means more heating systems and vehicles will use electricity.

Electrification will increase electricity demand across the region, needing new sources of clean generation in addition to phasing out coal and other fossil fuels currently being used. Integrating more renewable sources of energy will require smart grid technology to ensure the grid can remain as balanced and responsive as possible.

Smart grids will be essential to help utilities and customers limit growing demand for electricity (demand side management). Controls and smart meters, among other tools, will help lower demand peaks and overall use. This means we will need to build less generation infrastructure to help keep electricity rates as low as possible.

As we become more reliant on electricity, smart grid technology can help maintain energy security by responding to outages faster. This will also be increasingly important with more severe weather events brought on by climate change.

The four Atlantic provinces are already integrating smart grid technology into their operations and will continue to make important investments. It is essential for customers to make the most of new technologies available to help reduce their usage, and for utilities to increase cybersecurity support in an increasingly connected industry.


Full disclosure: The Atlantica Centre for Energy represents many of the largest energy producers and consumers in Atlantic Canada, including renewable energy. However, the Centre’s members also represent governments, research groups and academia. The Centre examines all types of energy to help decarbonize while growing economies across the region.