WASHINGTON - President Obama has announced the largest single electric grid modernization investment in United States history, with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) tapping $3.4 billion in American Reinvestment and Recovery Act funds for 100 smart grid projects. The funds are to be matched by $4.7 billion in private investments. According to the president, the smart grid projects will help build a “clean energy superhighway,” with a goal of increasing energy efficiency and helping to spur the growth of renewable energy resources such as wind and solar power. The grants range from $400,000 to $200 million, and will reach every state except Alaska.

The smart grid grants will pay for installing more than 2.5 million smart meters, which allow utility customers to access dynamic pricing information and avoid periods of peak electricity use, when power is most expensive. The grants will also support the installation of other smart grid components, including more than 1 million in-home energy displays, 170,000 smart thermostats, and 175,000 other load control devices to enable consumers to reduce their energy use. The funding will help expand the market for smart appliances, so that U.S. residents can further control their energy use and lower their electricity bills. Such smart grid technologies can also better accommodate the production of renewable energy from customer-owned systems, such as solar power systems or wind turbines.

Much of the funding will support upgrades to the utility power grids, including the installation of more than 200,000 smart transformers, which will make it possible for power companies to replace units before they fail. Utilities will also install more than 850 sensors that will cover all of the electric grid in the contiguous United States, making it possible for grid operators to better monitor grid conditions and allowing them to take advantage of intermittent renewable energy, such as wind and solar power. Finally, utilities will install nearly 700 automated substations, which will make it possible for power companies to respond faster and more effectively to restore service when bad weather knocks down power lines or causes electricity disruptions.

Publication date:11/02/2009