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 programs.
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 changes:
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.
Smart Grid Overview, Environmental Defense Fund
Energy Efficiency and the Smart Grid, Alliance to Save Energy
What Is the Smart Grid?, US Department of Energy