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Nation’s Electric Grid Gets Smart
Screenshot of M2M Portal
Web portal designed by M2M Communications allows consumers to see status of their electrical equipment.

​Per a provision in the Recovery Act, the Department of Energy has begun the long process of modernizing the nation’s 110-year-old electric grid. Expected to take possibly two decades to complete, the building of the so-called “Smart Grid” is a federal government partnership with utility companies, which are adding approximately $5 billion for the initial phase to DOE’s $4.5 billion.

The effort will essentially computerize the current electric grid and install digital communication systems among grid components so that electricity can be delivered much more efficiently, collectively saving consumers and businesses billions of dollars over the next 20 years, officials say.

Today’s Grid

The current grid, which dates back to the 1890s, is powered mainly by fossil-fuel-burning generating stations and consists of networks of substations, transformers, wires, and switches. It relies heavily on meter and voltage readers and repair personnel to gather data needed to provide electricity.

Photo of smart meters
Some of the smart meters being installed in homes and businesses.

Tomorrow’s Grid

One key feature of the Smart Grid will be in-home/office Smart Meters: digital devices that will communicate directly with a utility’s operations center. Among many other capabilities, Smart Meters will let consumers know how much electricity they’re using at any moment and what the cost is.  Other components, like transformers and substations, will similarly communicate with the utility. In addition, the Smart Grid will include more sources of renewable energy, such as solar and wind power.

Some of the benefits officials predict besides saving money:

  • Fewer/shorter power outages
  • Reduced peak demand
  • Increased integration of large-scale renewable energy systems
  • Better integration of customer-owned power generation systems

Two Programs

Department of Energy's map of Recovery funded Smart Grid projects.

Smart Grid Investment Grant (SGIG) and Smart Grid Demonstration Program (SGDP) are DOE’s twin programs for the initial phase. To date, SGIG has paid out $3.4 billion for 99 projects and SGDP $600 million for 32 projects, respectively.

SGIG focuses on deploying existing smart grid technologies, tools, and techniques to improve grid performance today. SGDP explores advanced smart grid and energy storage systems and evaluates performance for future applications.

More on the Smart Grid

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