The Obama administration has announced billions of dollars in support for developing a smart grid, and now we're starting to see some of that investment work on the ground. New York's Con Edison has recently received $45 million in smart grid stimulus funds from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The ultimate goal, of course, is a nationwide (and international) grid that is more efficient and stable, and one that facilitates conservation and integration with renewable energy and electronic devices.
The money Con Edison received will help fund smart grid research, including work on distribution monitoring devices, electric vehicle charging stations, renewable energy generation, energy storage, consumer systems, and a command and control network. Con Edison had previously received $136 million to deploy some smart grid technology. The utility is working with other parties on the project, including the New York City Economic Development Corp., Boeing, Columbia University, Viridity Energy, the Prosser Group, CALM Energy and Rudin Management Co.
The head of the industry's Edison Electric Institute, Thomas Kuhn, recently addressed a group of journalists in NYC about the smart grid (and URTH Guy was there!). "A smart grid will allow quicker service restoration after outages, it will enable new technologies, it will help the environment, it will facilitate plug-in hybrid vehicles, it will reduce our dependence on oil, and it will lead to smarter rates," Kuhn said. One of the benefits will be that utilities will no longer have to hire "meter men," which "won't have to worry about dodging people's dogs to read meters," added Kuhn. Electricity usage will be monitored from afar, and in fact consumers should be able to view their own data in real time, making their own budgeting and energy decisions much better. But don't worry too much about the meter men, there will be many new jobs in building out and servicing the smart grid, so utility payrolls won't necessarily shrink, at least for the foreseeable future (although eventually a smaller workforce could mean cheaper rates for consumers).
Mayo Shattuck, CEO of Maryland-based Constellation Energy, told the group that in a pilot program through his utility, consumers reduced their energy use by 22-37% just be watching a glowing orb in their house. The orb, based on smart grid technology, glows red when the price of power is high and green when it is lower, giving incentive to adjust behavior accordingly. "Costumers don't have to do much to save a lot," Shattuck added. "A smart grid in the Atlantic area could reduce energy demand by 25%."
"In study after study, if you give people more knowledge they save energy," said Andrew Tang, the director of smart grid work for Pacific Gas & Electric, the utility ranked as the greenest by Newsweek, and which leads the country in deployed smart tech. Tang said his company is working with the IEEE and others to develop standards for smart appliances, which would integrate wirelessly with the grid. Not only could you monitor and operate your devices from anywhere, but you'd be able to program more efficiently. For example, according to Tang, 70% of the power used by a refrigerator (a major hog) is the defrost cycle. He said setting that to only run during low-price periods could save a homeowner significant cash.
Worried about hackers turning your smart house against you? So are the utilities, and the panel argued that the industry is working hard to put rigorous security measures in place.
For now, Con Edison is running a smart grid test program in Queens, to see how the different parts work, and to optimize for local conditions, according to director and corporate VP Aubrey Braz. See Braz explaining the program in the TDG original video on this page.
The smart grid is an expensive project -- each smart meter costs at least $100, and significant infrastructure upgrades are required. But most analysts believe the long-term benefits are substantial. Besides, it's hard to stop the march of progress.
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