Smart Grid and Clean Energy Go Hand in Hand
Across the country, gleaming new solar panels and sleek wind
turbines are sprouting up as our country begins shifting to cleaner forms of
energy. But something is preventing us from getting the most out of this new
green energy: old power lines, meters, and billing systems.
Today, our energy sources are more diverse, our generating
capacity is more variable, and the distance between where we generate and use
power has increased. More and more homes are now becoming energy producers in
their own right with rooftop solar and electric vehicles, for example.
On top of that, more severe storms are putting our electrical
grid at great risk. During Hurricane Sandy, 8.1 million homes lost power, some
for over a week. It was the largest storm-related power outage in the region’s
history. Events like this are costing
our country $150 billion per year.
We have the technology to rapidly adjust to fickle supply
and shocks from big storms, but are we using it?
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009
(otherwise known as the Stimulus or ARRA) that was passed by Congress to get
the US out of the recession is investing nearly $4 billion into smart grid projects around the
country. The money goes to training the technicians who will operate the smart
grid, installing smart meters, and making our electricity distribution and
transmission more efficient, among
many other things.
In addition to
updating our aging infrastructure, this money already generated
$7 billion in economic output and nearly 50,000 full-time jobs.
What does the smart grid look like in action? Think of it
this way: what if your home was as intelligent as your smart phone? What if you
could get real-time information about where your energy was coming from and how
much it cost in any given moment? That would give you a lot more freedom to
save money and make choices about your energy use. The country would save a lot
of energy too.
Kansas City Power & Light, a utility in Missouri,
received funds from the ARRA to set up a
demonstration project (one of many) that integrates local renewable energy,
better storage, EV charging stations, digital readouts for customers, and training
In Baltimore, Baltimore Gas & Electric also received
ARRA funds to update
their local grid with new electric meters and personalized energy
information for their customers. BG&E CEO Ken DeFontes explains these
These changes to our grid are positive, but there is still
much to be done. The Electric Power Research Institute estimated it will take
up to $476
billion to upgrade the grid over the next 20 years (compare that to the $4
billion invested by the federal government through the ARRA). Our old grid is
costing consumers more money each year while simultaneously becoming more
unreliable: blackouts now take 20%
longer to fix than they did just 10 years ago. Unfortunately, with ARRA
funds approaching their expiration, all the progress made on upgrading our grid
may stall in the years ahead.
EarthShare members like the Environmental Defense Fund and
the Alliance to Save Energy are supporting the policies and technologies that
will move our energy system into the green future. Learn how you can support
this revolution by reading the resources below.
Grid Overview, Environmental Defense Fund
Efficiency and the Smart Grid, Alliance to Save Energy
What Is the
Smart Grid?, US Department of Energy