Smart grid gets multibillion-dollar injection

The Obama administration plans to detail a multibillion-dollar grid modernization program, which will bring two-way smart meters and energy monitoring to millions of U.S. homes.

The U.S. electricity grid will get a 21st century upgrade, including installation of millions of smart meters, through a government-led program.

The Obama administration is scheduled to announce Tuesday where it is spending $3.4 billion of stimulus money on 100 smart-grid projects in 49 states. As part of the funding, utilities are contributing $4.7 billion to the projects, pushing the total spending to $8.1 billion.

The injection of capital in the grid will make electricity delivery more reliable and help consumers use energy more efficiently, Carol Browner , the president's assistant on energy and climate change, said during a call with the media Monday night. Improving the infrastructure will also allow the country to use more solar and wind power, she said.

President Obama is scheduled to detail the smart-grid program awards in Arcadia, Fla., the location of one of the largest solar farms in the U.S.

The smart grid covers a range of digital devices and software. The bulk of the smart-grid stimulus grants will be spent on installing new hardware, including 18 million smart meters that have two-way communications to convey information between a home or business and the utility.

Smart meters can be used to shift the electricity load, such as running clothes driers or dishwashers, to off-peak times, which means that expensive and polluting auxiliary power plants may not need to be turned on.

The funding will also result in the installation of 200,000 more reliable advanced transformers and 700 automated substations that will be converted to digital controls, Matt Rogers, senior adviser for Recovery Act implementation at the Department of Energy, said Monday.

In addition to smart meters, over 1 million consumers will get in-home displays to provide information on electricity usage in real time and allow them to program their big appliances. The projects are expected to lead to over 130,000 network-connected thermostats as well, according to the DOE.

The DOE anticipates that the initial 18 million smart meters, which will cover 13 percent of homes, will allow utilities to use the grid more efficiently. That will lead to a higher penetration of advanced meters--as many as 40 million in the next few years, Rogers said.

The giant digital upgrade--anticipated for months--was applauded by companies trying to capitalize on grid modernization efforts, such as Cisco Systems , meter manufacturers, and a raft of start-ups that sell software or devices for the smart grid.

"These grants are an important down payment on building a smarter grid and will certainly jump-start both industry and state regulators to deploy smart-grid technologies," Katherine Hamilton, president of industry advocacy group GridWise Alliance, said in a statement.

The largest grants are $200 million while the smallest are less than $10 million. Altogether, there are 25 large-scale projects and 75 smaller ones, officials said. There were 400 applications for funding.

A list of projects by category can be found here and by state here. A map of the awarded projects can be found here.

 

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