Technologies and systems in the energy discourse are usually less known by general public. The buzzwords are visible, but their meaning are more vague. The dictionary tries to explain a few concepts and words.

Utility: Short for “Public Utility” which refers to the company that maintains an infrastructure that is a public infrastructure. Communication, Water, Electricity, Natural Gas and Sewage are the usual services these companies operate the infrastructure for. When I refer to a “Utility” in this text I signify a company that operates the public electric infrastructure. These infrastructures are expensive to run so they often are monopolies on a local and/or national scale.

The Grid: Refers to a network that can have physical similarities to a grid. “The Grid” can have several meanings depending on who you talk to, but the name usually relates to the physical structure of an Public Utility. In this text however “The Grid” reflects the interconnected electrical infrastructure that electricity is distributed through.

The Smart Grid: From a utility perspective the smart grid is at a large scale already implemented in many places. The backbones of the electric infrastructure are aware of its own status through various sensing devices. When one area of a country needs more power this is automatically or semi-automatically remedied. This is also called load balancing.

From an end user perspective the current Grid is not very smart. The devices called smart meters, that measures electrical consumption automatically and send the data to the power seller, are for the most part there to help the businesses retrieve accurate and real time information on their product[1].

Fuel Cell: Traditionally a fuel is burned to put its energy into useful work like motion. A fuel cell can convert this energy directly into a useful state, without burning it, in the form of electricity. A bonus is that if Hydrogen is used, the only output aside from heat and electricity is water. The fuel cell combines hydrogen (stored in a tank) and oxygen (derived from the air) in a catalytic reaction into water. In this process both heat and electricity is generated.

Electricity: A current is the movement of an electrical charge in a medium. Usually this is electrons running though a copper wire. The number of electrons passing a point can be measured and is measured in Amperes (A). More known to the end consumer is Watts, as every appliance and bulb at home usually are marked with their maximum Watt rating. The price we pay for our electricity consumption is based on how many thousand watt hours (kWh) we consume. 1kWh is consumed by a 1000W appliance in 1 hour.

Photo Voltaics: The field of research on Solar Cells. A Photo Voltaic cell (or solar cell) can convert light directly into a current that can be put to work.

Energy Dashboard: A virtual control panel provided either in a dedicated hardware or as a Graphical User Interface on the internet or in a custom software. This type of control panel usually display statistics of consumption, but more advanced versions can compare statistics with others and/or function as a remote to the various systems and appliances relevant to the management of energy in your home.

gadget: Small mechanical or electronic equipment.

ubiquitous computing: A term that a Mark Weiser introduced a few decades ago. In this field of work the computer as a physical device has been assimilated into all objects and as a result computing is all around us. The possibilities for new interactions with our environment in a post-desktop future are part of what ubiquitous computing explores[2].

greenwashing: A term for intentionally make products and services appear as ecological friendly by adding words and phrases related to the ecological friendly movements. “Green”, “Eco” and “Sustainable” are examples of such words[3].

API: “Application Protocol Interface” is an specification for programmers to use when they are connecting one product to another. The API allow information to flow between two different systems.

GUI: “Graphical User Interface” is the visual expression of a software where you can observe its output.

DIY: “Do It Yourself” is a term that describes things you make your self, usually following some kind of instruction.

References in this post
  1. European Commission. (2006). European Technology Platform
    Smart Grids. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the
    European Communities [*]
  2. Greenfield, A. (2006). Everyware. Berkley: New Riders [*]
  3. http://www.greenwashingindex.com/what.php [*]