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President Obama long promised a "green grid", now he's finally prepared to unveil a plan for one.

Upgrades to the aging grid, particularly internet-connected load-balancing technologies could greatly reduce power transmission losses and power costs.  (Source: SDrelo)

Some fear that an internet-connected grid could allow for domestic surveillance or allow foreign nations to sabotage the U.S. power system.  (Source: AP Photo)
A "major" technology provider will reportedly be involved

The United States and other nations are preoccupied with how to deploy "greener" energy.  Many argue they should instead be looking at how to cut the approximately 6.5 percent of generated power that is wasted each year in transmission losses. 

Across the U.S. much of the grid is 50 years old or older.  This not only leads to unnecessary waste, it also makes it difficult to wire new power production facilities, such as nuclear, wind, or solar plants into the grid.  Further, it limits the locations where high-power facilities, like server farms, can be located.

I. Obama Ready to Make Good on Smart Grid Promise

When U.S. President Barack Obama took office he promised to address this issue.  Now three years later, under the leadership of Steven Chu, Ph.d, Secretary of the Department of Energy; Aneesh Chopra, U.S. Chief Technology Officer; and other officials, he finally appears ready to make good on that promise.

Later today President Obama's staff will deliver a presentation entitled "Building the 21st Century Electric Grid".  The event will be targeted at bringing together the private sector and government resources to help renovate the badly aging grid.

In a press release the government states:
The Administration will announce a number of new public- and private-sector initiatives designed to accelerate the modernization of the nation’s electric infrastructure, bolster electric-grid innovation, and advance a clean energy economy, in part by taking greater advantage of digital and communications or ’smart grid’ technologies.
Along with the announcement of new public and private initiatives aimed at building a smarter, expanded grid and empowering consumers, the Cabinet-level National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) will release a new report: ‘A Policy Framework for the 21st Century Grid.’ This policy framework charts a collaborative path forward for applying digital information or ’smart grid’ technologies to the nation’s electricity infrastructure to facilitate the integration of renewable sources of power into the grid; help accommodate the growing number of electric vehicles; help avoid blackouts and restore power quicker when outages occur; and reduce the need for new power plants.
II. Google Gets Involved?'s chief analyst, Jesse Berst, reports that the administration will partner with "at least one technology vendor."  If this is true it should be intriguing to see who that partner is.

International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) is one familiar face in the smart grid movement, having long plugged greening the grid.  Newer players include Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) "Hohm" service and Google Inc.'s (GOOG) "PowerMeter" service.

If one had to guess, Google seems the most likely partner for the job.  The white house press release hints at internet connectedness for the grid, and Google is the king of all things internet.  Further, President Obama has a close relationship with Google and its executive management.

A few leading utilities will also be brought on board.  We'd expected "green-minded" west coast players like Pacific Gas & Electric, Comp. (PCG) to get onboard here.

Mr. Berst claims, "Our sources say the announcements will include a new nonprofit to encourage rapid implementation of consumer tools for choice and control."

III. Privacy, Security Issues Loom

An important elephant in the closet few are discussing is that a connected grid could lead to some privacy and security issues. 

Many sources have pointed out that an internet-connected smart grid would be a far easier target for sabotage by foreign agents than a traditional "dumb grid".  If critical systems were broken into, there's a very real potential for loss of power -- and loss of life.

Further, with your power usage on the internet, it's possible for remote snooping by either the government or malicious individuals.  This is arguably a lesser risk, in that it would require a great deal of effort and ultimately offer relatively little reward (power usage statistics aren't exactly the most sensitive piece of private information).

That said, some critics feel connecting the grid to the internet will compromise their privacy.  Some argue that it's the government sticking its nose in one more place that it doesn't belong.

IV. Check Out the Press Conference Online

Press release will be posted online at and a live video stream will begin playing at at 10:00 a.m. EST.

UPDATED: Monday, June 13, 2011 10:10 a.m.-

The presentation thus far has had few surprises, and fewer still details.  Full of anecdotal tales and historical references, but short on actual concrete plans for smart grid implementation, the presentation felt more like "Grid 101" than a clear blueprint for progress.

The White House press release [PDF] does offer a few details on what the new plan entails, at least.  It writes that the U.S. government will:
  • Offer $250M USD in guaranteed government loans to utilities and IT partners to deploy smart grid technologies -- this is in addition to the $4.5B USD from the Recovery Act that was pledged to the smart grid.
  • Create a new executive branch entity called the "Renewable Energy Rapid Response Team" whose purpose is to clear the red tape, expediting the permitting process for new alternative energy installations and new grid upgrades.
  • Create a private sector initiative called Grid 21 to connect the public with smart grid players to get clear and informative data.
  • Hold local "peer-to-peer" meetings to involve local governments in the "smart grid" buildup.
This all sounds fine and good, but the Recovery Act "smart grid" investment didn't exactly transform the nation's decrepit grid in any substantial way, so it's unclear how 1/18th of that investment amount in guaranteed loans will make much difference.

Secretary Chu at least acknowledged the security concerns to some extent, stating, "I think all the utilities are very aware that you need the security so someone can't just hack in and see a customer's usage data."

Supporters of the "smart grid" movement will find it nice to see a verbal commitment and a bit of enthusiasm, but ultimately the policy appears mostly political posturing.  Real change will have to come from the private sector; unfortunately many utilities seem relatively unwilling to make major changes.  It appears that the best hope for a true smart grid will lie with tech innovators like Google, Microsoft, and IBM, who can pressure utilities to adopt new technologies in some areas.

Stay tuned for more details.

Comments     Threshold

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This is nothing new
By Freezetron on 6/13/2011 12:53:24 PM , Rating: 5
Obama has always been about just "talk" and never started real action. Least Bush had the balls to start shit he believed in.

RE: This is nothing new
By cooperaaaron on 6/13/11, Rating: -1
RE: This is nothing new
By netminder69 on 6/13/2011 5:47:56 PM , Rating: 5
Actually it just topped 1 Trillion recently. The silly thing about your statement is calling them unfunded. Wars are not budgeted for. And the 1 trillion for the last 10 years is still far less than the spending spree Obama and the Democrat controlled congress has been on for the last several years.

The second silly thing is claiming Obama was blocked by Republicans. While it's the popular sentiment to regurgitate, he had a filibuster proof congress for the first couple years of his presidency. The Republicans couldn't stop anything from passing. In truth it was the Democrats who were blocking legislation because if they all voted together, everything would pass without a hitch.

RE: This is nothing new
By Targon on 6/14/11, Rating: 0
RE: This is nothing new
By bdunosk on 6/13/2011 6:38:37 PM , Rating: 5
Escalation in Afghanistan, then Libya, now Yemen... I suppose that was Bush, too?

Hate to say it, but the infrastructure in this country needs updating. Unfortunately, like this article says, the Obama-bucks were already thrown at the problem and nothing changed. Typical gov't efficiency, eh?

2012, coming right up... maybe the Mayans were right? :P

RE: This is nothing new
By Jedi2155 on 6/13/2011 4:43:21 PM , Rating: 3
I'm an engineer involved directly in creating the new Smart Grid at one of the nations largest electricity utilities. The extra funding provided by the Obama administration is making a huge difference here in funding R&D in many new energy saving/efficiency technologies in addition to the building of multiple new large transmission towers.

To say that the money is going no where and not making a difference is simply political bias IMO. If you spent the time to follow the money trail, you'd see that it is really helping create many jobs as I've seen a over dozen new engineers hired to help create the smart grid in my organization alone due to the extra funding.

Here are examples of where the original ARRA money is going:

The extra money is probably going to fund extra projects to demonstrate their feasibility in the real world.

RE: This is nothing new
By YashBudini on 6/15/2011 1:17:53 AM , Rating: 2
To say that the money is going no where and not making a difference is simply political bias IMO

You've identified a classic emotional response of humans. If I can't see it or it doesn't impact me then it doesn't exist. More specifically it is used by political extremists on both sides when facts fall in short supply and/or only benefit the hated party/enemy.

In its most severe form you'd be called a liar and humiliated by those you piss off the most.

RE: This is nothing new
By superstition on 6/15/2011 8:13:00 PM , Rating: 2
By "believed in", I suppose you're referring to him walking hand-in-hand with "Bandar Bush".

Politicians believe in one thing: money.

"The whole principle [of censorship] is wrong. It's like demanding that grown men live on skim milk because the baby can't have steak." -- Robert Heinlein

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