Whenever smart grid experts talk about transforming the nation’s aging power grid, the focus is usually on the efficiency that will result. And for good reason — the potential gains are so huge, they might just exceed our current electrical usage.

At this week’s Advanced Energy 2010 Conference in New York City, GE’s Bob Gilligan laid out a scenario in which the total U.S. energy consumption and emissions saved between 2010 and 2030 could exceed the entire electrical consumption and electrical CO2 output for all of 2010. “The net result would be like 2010 never happened,” he explained.

Gilligan, vice president of digital energy for GE Energy Services, said that in addition to the energy and pollution savings, that scenario would create 140,000 sustainable new jobs and an electrical landscape that includes 3.3 billion fewer customer outage minutes. These improvements could result in savings of $65.7 billion from reduced power interruptions by 2030.

Granted, all this good news comes with an ever-growing backdrop of bad news. Gilligan noted that as cities continue to grow around the world, they will house more than 60 percent of the world’s population and consume a vast majority of its power by 2030 — something that an electricity infrastructure designed a century ago can’t supply. For example, approximately half of the transformer equipment powering the U.S. grid is currently at or approaching the end of its design life, he said.

This is happening as global electricity demand is forecasted to increase 75 percent by 2030 — with more than 40 percent of our emissions already coming from electricity generation. At the same time, costs are also rising — in the U.S., rates increased an average of 42 percent between 2000 and 2007.

“The good news is that we are not talking gloom and doom,” he said, underscoring that the technology is ready now and deployable. The key to an energy revolution, he says is to take “measured, affordable evolutionary steps.”

If that evolution begins now, Gilligan estimates that the power saved will be equal to the output of 64 average coal plants (500 megawatts each) while the CO2 impact will be the equivalent of taking over 25 million cars off the road. Another upside: “These are conservative adoption estimates,” he said, “so imagine the benefits if we move more quickly.”

Baby steps start now: Click to enlarge. The smart grid is more than just smart meters. The pie charts indicate the level of adoption/deployment of other key smart grid technologies by 2030. They include: Smart meters, efficiency and reliability technologies, visualization tools to monitor energy use and fully integrated networks that automate power distribution functions. Estimates for other years are available in the full presentation.

* See Bob’s full presentation
* Read more smart grid stories on GE Reports
* Learn more about electric vehicles and how they fit into the smart grid
* Learn more on www.itsyoursmartgrid.com