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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?

SmartGridNews.com'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 whitehouse.gov/ostp and a live video stream will begin playing at whitehouse.gov/live 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.


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RE: Why don't they address the bigger issues?
By phantom505 on 6/13/2011 1:25:53 PM , Rating: 3
It was dead way before Obama.


RE: Why don't they address the bigger issues?
By Reclaimer77 on 6/13/2011 1:56:05 PM , Rating: 3
No it's been slowly dying due to countless politicians like Obama who see NASA as a boondoggle taking money away from inner city "urban programs" and entitlement programs. The manned space flight program has been plagued from the very beginning by short sighted politicians who believed what little funding NASA did receive would be better spent on welfare and other entitlement programs for America's "urban" population to buy votes to the determent of mankind.

It wasn't dead, yet. He killed it. The man could find a trillion dollars to spend on thin air, but keeping the shuttle going or building next-gen replacements wouldn't buy him a re-election now would it?


By highlander2107 on 6/13/2011 2:13:50 PM , Rating: 2
Wrong.

Project was over budget and behind schedule when Obama got it. Politicians had nothing to do with it.

Obama has SAVED NASA by forcing them to buy rockets from the FREE MARKET.

Right wing nutt-jobs never know what they're talking about. Must come with the territory.


RE: Why don't they address the bigger issues?
By Reclaimer77 on 6/13/2011 2:25:14 PM , Rating: 2
http://www.nss.org/resources/library/shuttledecisi...

Get a clue. Of course they were "over budget", their budget was ridiculously small for the massive scope they were tasked!

quote:
Obama has SAVED NASA by forcing them to buy rockets from the FREE MARKET.


Interesting that the ONLY free market approach the man has ever supported comes at the cost of space exploration. Saved NASA? You're insane! He's crippled it!! He turned it from space exploration to directing them to studying Earth sciences and the climate! Wtf do you get this stuff?

They no longer have the budget to explore space or even to explore the OPTIONS to exploring space. A free market rocket isn't even the point.


By ekv on 6/13/2011 3:54:11 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Interesting that the ONLY free market approach the man has ever supported comes at the cost of space exploration.
Of all the things that could've had a "free market approach" ... NASA was chosen to be the butt of Obama's budget-cutting. At the time of O's proposal it really struck me as odd. Why not a "free market approach" for health care, or smart grids, or ... ad nauseam. NASA hasn't been re-visited by O's hype/propaganda machine so I can only assume even he thinks it is effectively dealt with.

To me, O doesn't give a damn about the space program. It could be that his background taints his perspective on the utility of NASA. One of the few gov't agencies that has had a positive impact on our economy (given the number of tech spin-offs). Not to mention the jobs that are being lost here. It truly is tech that cannot be replaced and certainly cannot be recreated overnight. Once the engineers move on, that's it.


RE: Why don't they address the bigger issues?
By delphinus100 on 6/13/2011 10:06:35 PM , Rating: 2
Constellation was underfunded from day one.

But that's okay, It would've been unaffordable by any administration.

Even left to itself, Ares-1/Orion would've been able to do Earth-orbit missions by 2017...Ares-V might have been able to get three guys to the Moon by 2030.

Three on the surface instead of two (no funding for the expendable Altair lander, BTW), with stay times not much longer than Apollo. One, maybe two missions per year.

This is your idea of manned exploration? Apollo 1.1, at maybe 2x Apollo price? (and nothing in there about Mars...Orion would never go there by itself...even a pair of them to a NEO is pushing it)

Come on. We can get more bang for the buck than that, and if we don't get sucked into the equally unnecessary SLS, we will. (I can live with Orion alone, as long as it launches on existing vehicles, like Delta IV Heavy.)

quote:
but keeping the shuttle going or building next-gen replacements wouldn't buy him a re-election now would it?


No, and no politician ever won or lost an election over their NASA support, or lack of it. It's important to you and me (though in clearly different ways), but the truth is, it's just not important to the majority of people. I remember the post-Apollo disinterest well enough to know that. Most think 'space is cool,' but not as many want to pay for it.

But again, it's okay. The current NASA budget is adequate to do all sorts of interesting and useful things in manned space flight, if we spend that money right. The real problem will be managing to maintain even its current budget (which Obama had increased, BTW), in a fiscal/political environment where every program will be subject to heavy scrutiny. (And yes, I know it's about 0.6% of the budget, but that does not change what I said.)


By YashBudini on 6/15/2011 1:25:50 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
if we spend that money right

You mean like when politicians leave politics out of the equation?

How many votes are yes or no based strictly on which party started the bill? Their hatred of the other guy?

Starting to wonder about the former in the phrase "United States."


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