I love grid computing. I should make a t-shirt. Seriously, I think it's one of those really special ideas whose ultimate potential is a long way from being realized. For those unfamiliar with the concept it's pretty simple really. Grid computing is a form of distributed computing whereby a "super and virtual computer" is composed of a cluster of networked, loosely-coupled computers, acting in concert to perform very large tasks.
Mostly, we've used this technology for computationally-intensive scientific, mathematic, and academic problems through volunteer computing, and it is used in commercial enterprises for such diverse applications as drug discovery, economic forecasting, seismic analysis, and back-office data processing in support of e-commerce and web services.
Now that you understand that - there is another similar idea which I must say is equally special and brilliant. It's called Vehicle-To-Grid or V2G for short. I've been reading about V2G for quite a while, and now a team at the University of Michigan is conducting an extensive study on the technology as part of a national sustainable energy solution.
The fundemental premise is quite a bit like grid computing. While current electric plants are good at generating power, they often fall short when it comes to storage -- which can be a problem when there's a power surge or when demand increases. V2G will let hybrid-electric owners sell the power their car generates to the electrical power grid whenever the car is not in use.
With V2G I envision a time when millions of hybrid vehicle owners will come together to create one large virtual battery, allowing everyone to play a small part in building our nation's energy independence.
"Cars sit most of the time," said Jeff Stein, a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. "What if it could work for you while it sits there? If you could use a car for something more than just getting to work or going on a family vacation, it would be a whole different way to think about a vehicle, and a whole different way to think about the power grid, too."
This will lead to more sustainable transportation and grid infrastructures, and will also increase the resilience of these infrastructures to sharp changes in energy costs, supply, or demand.
The National Science Foundation's Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation program created a topic for a 2007-2008 call for proposals on resilient and sustainable infrastructures. This topic argues that the nation's infrastructures over the past century have evolved largely independently but new technologies have emerged that coupled some of these infrastructures. This has created a need for fundamental tools to design and develop these new technologies and to evolve these coupled infrastructures.
I see plug-in hybrid electric vehicles as a perfect example of such a new technology that in this case is coupling the transportation and power grid infrastructures. Super cool stuff.