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DOE opens wallet for smart-grid trials

The Department of Energy allocates $57 million for six projects to test "microgrids" that combine demand response with renewable energy around the country.

The Department of Energy on Monday awarded $57 million in funding to modernize the electricity grid with projects designed to make transmission more reliable and reduce power consumption in homes.

The money, from the stimulus act passed earlier this year, will be for six demonstration projects for the smart grid, a collection of technologies aimed at making the electricity system more efficient, reliable, and capable of using more solar and wind power.

Another $10.5 million in grants is available for local governments to create emergency preparedness plans related to energy, such as outages.

Department of Energy

"Modernizing our electrical grid to make it stronger, smarter, more efficient and more secure is a crucial step in expanding renewable energy and creating jobs," said Energy Secretary Steven Chu in a statement. "These investments will help lay the foundation for American leadership in the clean energy economy."

The Department of Energy on Monday also released the Smart Grid System Report (click for PDF) a status report on the changes required to implement smart-grid technologies.

The study found that some technologies, such as advanced two-way meters, are being adopted quickly. But the country as a whole needs more experience with smart-grid technologies and the business and regulatory changes required are only now taking shape.

In addition, the DOE concludes that it's likely that changes to behavior are needed to realize the benefits of efficiency. "A smart grid is socially transformational. As with the Internet or cell phone communications, our experience with electricity will change dramatically. To successfully integrate high levels of automation requires cultural change," according to the report.

Some of the six demonstration projects test how more automation can be integrated into the utility business using demand response, where energy consumption is dialed down at customer sites during peak times.

For example, Consolidated Edison received $5.6 million to demonstrate interoperability of demand-response systems. The City of Fort Collins got $4.8 million to develop a system that reduces peak load by 15 percent and increases use of distributed renewable power.

Other projects are designed to test out more efficient ways of transmitting electricity and preventing outages.

American Superconductor, which makes superconductor wires for efficient transmission, was awarded money for two projects for high-temperature superconductors and system to restrict power surges.

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