Clean Edge, an alternative energy research and strategic marketing firm, discusses the economic potential and market opportunties for smart grids:
Weve heard for decades about green generation (a.k.a. green power, alternative energy, and renewable energy). And for decades about green end-use, (a.k.a. energy efficiency and conservation). Dont we need a green grid to connect the two?...an improved grid may be the fastest short-term path to green objectives.
The greenest grid is no grid.
Small Is Profitable by Amory Lovins et al. has a huge amount of info on the real cost of the grid, both financial and in terms of energy waste.
For example (from memory of the stuff in SIP), solar panels directly wired to air conditioners - no batteries, no inverters, nothing. No "grid" - only fifty feet of copper wire beteen production and consumption - means no grid losses, no converter losses - and great efficiency. And turn the solar panels 30 degrees west, and the power they produce almost exactly matches the air conditioning load, for only 1% less total output in a year.
One way of thinking about this is the "gridless grid" - in this case, the "grid" is simply the sunlight falling to earth, plentiful in all areas where AC is required. In other cases (say, small gas turbines) the "grid" is the gas pipelines or tankers.
There are a lot of ways of moving energy.