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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Smart Grid Investment Grant

The Obama administration named 100 utility projects that will share $3.4 billion in federal stimulus funding to use technology designed to reduce energy use and make the electric-power grid more robust.

The $3.4 billion in Smart Grid Investment Grant awards are part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, and will be matched by industry funding for a total public-private investment worth more than $8 billion.

The U.S. Department of Energy said grants of $400,000 to $200 million will lead to the installation of at least 18 million advanced digital meters, which will bring the nation's total to about 40 million, or enough to cover one-quarter to one-third of U.S. homes.

The new meters, also known as "smart" meters, are funded by the stimulus grants differ from conventional meters because they are electronic and they contain communicating modules and software that enables them to receive signals and communicate to utilities or to utility customers. They are the strength of demand-reduction efforts because they will allow utilities to charge different rates at different times of day and they can notify consumers when grid conditions require special action.

The Department of Energy said that the stimulus funds will improve efficiency all along the grid including electric substations, power lines, transformers and meters.

About 200,000 new generation transformers will alert utilities before they fail. Currently, utilities often use a "run to fail" approach in which they often only replace equipment when it breaks.

Energy Department officials stressed, in a press briefing Monday evening, that consumers will benefit from the investments. New meters and energy monitoring systems will give consumers better information to manage their energy use, and make it easier for power companies to use more renewable energy. Electricity from wind turbines or solar power systems tends to come in uneven bursts -- when the wind is strong or the sun bright. Proponents of the investments say a digital grid would be better able to handle those ups and downs.

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