The researchers envision the technology to develop into microgrids that can reconfigure themselves while being integrated into a larger electrical smart grid hierarchy.
The technology is based on four receptacles that are integrated into the outlet and include "voltage/current sensing; actuation (switching); a computer for implementing the controls; and an Ethernet bridge for communicating with other outlets and sending data to a collection computer."
Microgrid-enabling smart outlets could become invaluable devices as electricity supply from alternative energy sources such as wind and solar energy is less predictable and could benefit from a outlets that can manage demand on-the-fly and compensate for production variations. According to the researchers, the smart outlets will support bi-directional monitoring of electricity flow and can turn each energy-producing location to turn into an "energy island" if the main power grid goes down.
Scientists also believe that such a system would be more reliable as it reduces the chance of a single-point failure and it would be more secure as it could identify malicious control actions and prevent their distribution in the grid.
There was no information when such devices could be available commercially and how much they may cost.