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Miami to tap stimulus for $200 million smart grid

With 1 million smart meters on tap, Energy Smart Miami program is intended to help residents cut utility bills by providing data on home energy usage in real time.

The City of Miami announced a proposal on Monday to install 1 million two-way "smart meters" to all Miami residents over the next two years in what would be the most comprehensive smart-grid program in the U.S.

Mayor Manny Diaz outlined the Energy Smart Miami plan, which is anticipated to cost $200 million in its first phase, at a press conference at Miami Dade College. Joining Diaz were the CEOs of the key suppliers in the project: Florida Power & Light CEO Lewis Hay, General Electric CEO Jeffery Immelt, Cisco systems CEO John Chambers, and SilverSpring Networks CEO Scott Lang.

"To me these are prudent and smart investments that will easily pay for themselves," Diaz said. "It will show the nation how to address environmental, energy, and economic challenges all at the same time."

The installation of meters with a wireless Internet connection will allow consumers get detailed home energy usage information from the Web, according to Hay, the CEO of the Florida utility. With the up-to-the minute data, consumers are expected to take steps to lower their consumption.

About 1,000 consumers will get in-home energy display from GE, called an EcoDashboard, and have smart-meter-controlled appliances and thermostats. These people will also participate in a demand-response program that will allow the utility to adjust appliances to throttle down electricity use during peak times.

Martin LaMonica/CNET

The project, which will total $700 million across the state, also calls for adding Internet connectivity to substations and other hardware along the distribution grid, which will allow the utilty to prevent or quickly fix outages, Hay said.

Florida Power & Light is applying for a matching grant from the federal government, which would allow the utility to complete the program in two years rather than five, he said. About 100,000 people in FPL's Miami territory already have smart meters equipped with wireless networking card from SilverSpring Networks.

In addition, municipal facilities will invest in solar power at schools and universities, and FPL will buy 300 plug-in electric vehicles and 50 charging stations. With the smart-grid infrastructure, the utility can better incorporate distributed renewable energy generation to make the grid run more efficiently.

"We have 100,000 of the meters deployed already and customers are seeing real savings," Hay said. "It's an open-architecture-based system that will allow new applications to be developed" to automate home energy monitoring.

Stimulating the stimulus
The project altogether involves about 10 technologies, from the power generation station to people's homes, said Immelt.

As such, it would be a showcase for how information technology can upgrade the power grid and lower people's bills, he added. It also will serve to "stimulate the stimulus" plan.

"The most important word to come away with from today isn't 'green,' it's 'now.' The technologies are available now, the investments need to take place, the jobs need to be created now," Immelt said. "This is the kind of project the country should be doing."

Diaz said that the project would create between 800 and 1,000 jobs and pump between $5 billion and $7 billion into the general economy by 2015 from the energy savings of consumers. It's fitting that Miami would be at the forefront of cleaner energy technologies and environmental sustainability because a rise of several feet from global warming would put much of the city, including Diaz' current home, under water, he said.

Cisco will provide the networking infrastructure to transmit information from meters and other devices to FPL. Cisco CEO Chambers said that countries around the world recognize the importance in investing in an automated power grid.

Both governments and businesses need to invest in the grid, much the way the Internet was built. "This is an instant replay of the Internet," he said. "Instead of moving zeros and ones, we're moving electricity."