The Smart Grid Is On Its Way - Slowly
Oct 27, 2009 - Marc Gunther - Reuters
Today, President Obama travels to Arcadia, Florida, home to one of the nation’s biggest solar power plants, to announced 100 grants providing a total of $3.4 billion in recovery-act funding for the smart grid.
The federal money will unleash $4.1 billion of private investment that, according to the government, that will bring smart meters to about 18 million American homes, or 13 percent of homes.
It’s a big deal.
What would a smart grid mean to you?
In theory, you could save money by running appliances like dishwashers or dryers at night when electricity is cheaper. You’d know how much it costs you to watch that big-screen TV. (Care to take a guess? Read on.) If you installed solar panels on the roof, you could sell electricity back to the grid. Or recharge that electric car you may buy in 2010 or 2011.
The laudable goal is to empower consumers to buy electricity the way we buy groceries or gasoline or airplane tickets -- where we know what we are getting and what it costs when we make purchasing decisions.
Right now, we consume electricity without knowing how much we are using, understanding where it’s going or knowing the price until an unintelligible utility bill arrives in the mailbox once a month.
The trouble is, layering intelligence and transparency into the electricity grid requires action by two of the slowest-moving entities in all of America -- the federal government and the regulated utilities. So you can be certain this won’t be an overnight transformation.
In fact -- irony of ironies -- the news that Uncle Sam was going to be subsidizing smart-grid rollouts has inadvertently slowed down the process, albeit temporarily. About 570 applications were filed seeking a total of $14 billion in grants. While waiting to see who got the grants and who didn’t, some utilities put their plans on hold.
Last night, Carol Browner, the White House climate czar, Jared Bernstein, an economic advisor to Vice President Joe Biden and Matt Rogers, a senior advisor to Energy Secretary Chu and brainy alum of McKinsey & Co., held a conference call to talk about the smart-grid grants.
Browner and Bernstein said spending stimulus money on smart grid projects would “create or save” tens of thousands of jobs, and enable the growth of domestic renewable energy -- claims that may well be true but weren’t backed up with either data or logic. Of course, giving the electricity industry billions in subsidies will help create or save jobs; the more important question is how many of those jobs would have been saved or created anyway had the government chosen to sit on the sidelines.
The DOE won’t release a list of all the grant recipients until today, but Rogers offered these examples on the media call. They went by in a hurry so don’t hold me to every specific: