Modernizing the Grid: Keeping the Dialogue Going

Modernizing the Grid: Keeping the Dialogue Going
courtesy of Energy Department's Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability
Utilities are delivering more reliable and affordable energy as a result of Recovery Act investment and are sharing lessons about new Smart Grid technologies.

Over the last few weeks, I have traveled around the country to talk -- and listen -- about what is being done to modernize the nation’s electric grid. Across the U.S., utilities and communities are developing smart, viable solutions that address their specific needs.  For example, at the University of Vermont’s conference on “Powering the Future: The Vermont Smart Grid and Beyond,” I spoke with Senator Bernie Sanders and other Vermont officials about how the e-Vermont project is leveraging investments in smart grid, broadband and health care IT. 


Michigan, meanwhile, is leading the way on incorporating electric vehicle charging infrastructure into the smart grid. While in Dearborn, I spoke at the “Smart Grid Symposium: Transforming to a Smart and Secure Electric Power Grid” about the importance of improved grid reliability, resiliency and customer service.  The following week, I visited Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, where I spoke at an Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers conference about the role of technologies such as micro-grids, distribution automation technology and flywheel storage in modernizing the grid. 


My next stop: Atlanta, where I joined other keynote panelists at the Grid ComForum hosted by Southern Company and The Georgia Institute of Technology for a discussion on policy and regulation issues.  The event addressed smart grid issues from the power utility perspective with a focus on business case development (including customer and stakeholder benefits), market drivers and marketing operations and policy concerns.  Demonstrating the success of the smart grid in the marketplace is crucial.


Another highlight from this event was Southern’s account of being able to restore power more quickly following a series of severe storms and tornados because of the smart grid technologies they have in place. The final stop on my “road trip” was the University of Washington in Seattle, where I spoke at the “Washington Electric Energy Systems Symposium” about the impact of technology, markets and policy on the future of the grid. 


The dialogue about modernizing the grid continues. Earlier this month in Vermont, the Energy Department co-hosted the second in a series of regional peer-to-peer meetings designed to facilitate a dialogue among early adopters of smart grid technologies. Utilities based in the Northeast shared their “lessons learned” with other utilities as well as regulators, consumer advocacy groups, and others. In the coming months, additional meetings will be held in other regions around the country. Based on these meetings, the Energy Department will begin to formulate best practices, identify technology and market gaps, and characterize national policy impacts.  These conclusions can be used to develop future program strategies and plans and formulate pragmatic policy recommendations.  Moving forward, we will continue to seek additional opportunities to keep this important dialogue going. 


In other parts of the country, meanwhile, Recovery Act recipients are using smart grid technologies to deliver more reliable and affordable power, recover from major storms and improve operations.  For example:


• In the heart of “Tornado Alley,” Oklahoma Gas & Electric Company is pursuing demand response strategies to lower peak demand and improve efficiencies on the distribution system.

• In New York City, Con Edison is upgrading its distribution system to reduce the frequency and duration of outages and improve power quality.

• The Electric Power Board in Chattanooga, Tennessee, is making its distribution system more robust to provide continued reliable electric service and respond more effectively to severe weather events. 

• The Western Electricity Coordinating Council is modernizing the transmission system in the Western Interconnection to increase reliability and system performance, and enable greater use of renewables such as solar, hydro, and wind. 

• The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association is studying the impact of smart grid technologies that will reach more than 700,000 consumers in 12 states.

Education is also key in keep us moving towards a more reliable, resilient and secure grid. The Recovery Act provides nearly $100 million for training the next generation of smart grid workers. Grant recipients -- which include community colleges, universities, utilities and manufacturers -- are estimating that the programs will train approximately 30,000 Americans.  


Modernizing the grid is a complex task for which there is no “one size fits all” solution. And a lot of work remains to be done. As we continue on this journey, we will continue reporting -- via the Energy Blog as well as the and Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability web sites -- on the innovative solutions that are being implemented around the country. 


Patricia Hoffman is Assistant Secretary of the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability.