White House Event Amps Up Grid Modernization Efforts

On Monday, the White House brought together a range of stakeholders from throughout the energy sector—including  utility executives, state regulators, federal agencies, consumer advocates, technology leaders and entrepreneurs -- to discuss along with Administration officials the most effective ways of upgrading our country’s electric grid.  The White House also released a new report, A Policy Framework for a 21stCentury Grid, produced by the Cabinet-level National Science and technology Council.

The advent of a range of information, communications, and energy technologies provides us with an opportunity to upgrade the grid in a manner that will enable it to operate more efficiently, more reliably, and to spur innovation.  To take best advantage of the opportunities provided by these technologies, A Policy Framework for a 21stCentury Grid establishes four key priorities:

  1. "Scale what works" to enable cost-effective smart grid investments;
  2. Unlock the innovation potential in the electricity sector with a continued focus on open interoperability standards;
  3. Empower consumers with education and access to their own energy usage information in consumer- and computer- friendly formats, with improved privacy safeguards and consumer protections; and
  4. Continue to secure the grid against natural disasters and cyber-threats.

President Obama has set goals of having one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015 and generating 80% of our electricity from a diverse set of clean energy sources by 2035.  Upgrading our grid can play an important role in moving towards these bold but achievable goals, as well as integrating renewable energy into the grid while also becoming better able to facilitate the wider use and charging of electric vehicles. Upgrading the grid would also have a direct effect on consumers by saving families money through increased efficiency and reliability, while also helping utilities avoid blackouts and restore power quicker when they occur. 

We are already making progress. Secretary Chu announced on Monday that Recovery Act investments have enabled the installation of 5 million smart meters and 140,000 programmable thermostats to date. We are paving the way so customers have the information they need to make informed decisions about their energy use and can save money.

We are also making progress bringing renewable energy to American cities and towns.  At Monday’s event, Nancy Sutley, Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), announced the formation of a Department of Energy, Department of Interior, and CEQ-led Renewable Energy Rapid Response Team, which will improve Federal coordination and ensure timely review of proposed renewable energy projects and transmission lines.  In addition, the Administration continues to support transmission planning efforts, which have already resulted in the identification by stakeholders of high-priority transmission lines.

As we heard this week, making sustained progress on grid modernization will take a collaborative partnership with States and stakeholders.  What works for New York isn’t the same as what might work for North Dakota or Texas. The Administration is committed to continuing to work with various stakeholders, hearing their concepts or concerns while also sharing lessons learned and best practices, as we move forward with this important project.

We also heard from two inspiring high school students who have already set up their own non-profit to promote energy savings in schools. It is in that spirit the Department of Energy has launched an America’s Home Energy Education Challenge, to ensure students can learn about energy and help their families save money at the same time. Participants in that challenge are sure to benefit from electronic access to their energy data.

Modernizing America’s electric grid is critical to winning the future.  A smarter and expanded electric grid – a 21st century electric grid – is an important part of continuing to build our 21st century clean energy economy, leveraging American ingenuity while creating jobs and maintaining American competiveness. Thanks to the efforts of the Administration and the many stakeholders that gathered at the White House on Monday, we are confident it will happen.

Aneesh Chopra is US Chief Technology Officer

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