The creaky old electrical grid that carries power around the United States is inefficient, outmoded, and perilously prone to failures. To make a start at remedying the situation, President Obama will announce today the 100 utility projects that will share $3.4 billion in federal stimulus funding to speed deployment of advanced technology designed to cut energy use and make the electric-power grid more robust. When combined with funds from utility customers, the program is expected to inject more than $8 billion into grid modernization efforts nationally, administration officials said. “We have a very antiquated system that we need to upgrade,” said Carol Browner, energy coordinator for the Obama administration [The Wall Street Journal].
The projects include the installation of “smart meters,” which are more advanced than typical electricity meters. They use digital technology to deliver detailed usage data both to the customer and the utility, as well as adding displays in homes that tell customers about their electricity use [The New York Times]. This allows for real-time monitoring of electricity use so that customers can adjust their usage, for example by turning off devices during peak hours when electricity is most expensive.
Federal stimulus money will also go to projects that improve the efficiency of power lines and electric substations, and for next-generation transformers that can wirelessly communicate their condition, so that power plant operators get a warning before a part fails. Other projects will set the stage for the smooth introduction of large amounts of electricity from wind or solar sources into the transmission system [AP].
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Image: flickr / srqpix