John F Martin

Rush hour isn’t just a traffic problem. Power lines, too, back up at peak times. The result: high electric bills and blackouts. That’s why a team led by Pablo Ruiz, an engineer at Boston University, designed software to detect grid congestion and redirect power to lesser-used transmission lines. It could save U.S. consumers more than $1 billion a year in peak-hour costs.

The process, known as grid smoothing, also makes room for renewable energy sources, which tend to enter the power grid in spurts. Smoothing ensures that the system pulls heavily from turbines on windy days or draws on conventional sources when the sun is too weak to feed solar arrays. A higher percentage of energy from renewable sources generally lowers consumer costs. Even better, utilities don’t need hardware upgrades to see the benefits. “All they have to do is install the new program,” Ruiz says.

This article was originally published in the June 2015 issue of Popular Science as part of our “New Faces Of Energy” feature.