Ploss pointed out that the advent of locally generated power from wind and solar which domestic users feed into the grid means that the end user has become part of the distribution process.
"There's a need to tune the grid," said Ploss, "the switch from AC to DC transmission would get rid of inefficient energy in the system, avoiding reactive power. HV DC transmission over the existing lines would push energy transport by nearly a factor of two."
The current problem with electricity distribution is its inefficiency, said Ploss' fellow panelist Gregg Lowe, CEO of Freescale. ""For less than 10% of the time more than 20% of the capacity is being used," said Lowe, "for 90% of the time you only need 20% of the capacity. Semiconductors should be able to solve that."
Ploss pointed to the need to be able to switch power lines on and off and redirect power from one point to another, but another fellow panelist, Carlo Bozotti, CEO of STMicroelectronics, pointed out this totally failed to happen in the Japanese tsunami disaster.
"Japan tried to transfer power from the West side of the island to the East side but it was a disaster - they could not move the power" said Bozotti adding that the Japanese grid is 50-60 years old.
Is storing energy during low usage tines and using it at high usage times the answer? "Storage is important but it isn't the answer," said Lowe, "we should try figuring out ways to balance the usage. "If power companies sell electricity for less at certain parts of the day, it will encourage people to use it when it's cheap."
Some examples of successful implementation of the smart grid were quoted: Lowe said that Austin, Texas has 500,000 smart meters and China will have 300m smart meters by 2016. Bozotti said that Italy has spent $2bn installing 33m smart meters and is now saving $500m a year.
The urgency of smartening up the grid is, said Bozotti, shown by the fact the Americans spend $150bn a year repairing the grid after power outages and some emerging countries are finding that 40% of their electricity is stolen.
The answer to all of this is semiconductors. The CEOs were agreed that the smart grid represented a big opportunity for their companies, that the smart grid would be effected by semiconductors and that it would improve life.
"Semiconductors have the ability to always manage power at a lower cost than last year," said Ploss, "what we can supply is a system where you can become more and more affordable. Semiconductors are one of the reasons we have a good life."