'Smart grid' projects to get $3.4B in grants

Projects include smart meters, sensors and IT infrastructures

President Barack Obama today announced $3.4 billion in economic stimulus law grants to electric utilities for "smart grid" technologies, which use technology tools to make power generation and distribution more efficient. The projects to receive funds include smart meters, sensors and transformers, and the information technology infrastructures to support them.

The grants will be matched by $4.7 billion in private funds to pay for projects in every state except Delaware.

For example, Potomac Electric Power Co. in the District of Columbia will receive $44 million to install 280,000 smart meters and deploy automation and communications systems to reduce peak electricity demand. The city of Birmingham, Ala. will receive $164 million to implement five smart grid systems that increase energy efficiency, automation and cybersecurity.

Smart grid technologies can reduce national energy use by 4 percent in 2010, according to the Electric Power Research Institute.

The $8 billion in combined funding includes $2 billion for smart grid cross-cutting and integration projects that span several components and $1 billion for consumer systems such as smart meters used in homes.

The projects will create jobs across the country in manufacturing, engineering, electrical work and installation, IT system design, cybersecurity specialists, database administrators and business and power systems analysts, among others, according to a White House news release.

The money will be used to deploy more than 40 million smart meters to help consumers cut their utility bills. In addition, there will be more than 1 million in-home displays, 170,000 smart thermostats, and 175,000 other load control devices.

The funding will pay for installation of more than 850 sensors called phasor measurement units, which will cover the U.S. electric grid. The sensors will enable better monitoring of the grid to reduce blackouts and take advantage of alternative power sources, such as wind and solar energy, when they are available, the release said. Phasors are numbers that represent the magnitude and phase angle of sine waves in the electrical current.

Also, the grants will pay for more than 200,000 smart transformers and 700 automated substations.

Federal agencies have been preparing for the installation of smart grid technologies. In May, the National Institute of Standards and Technology recognized technical standards for smart grid interoperability and security. And in July, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a policy statement on cybersecurity and systems monitoring for the grid.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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