State and Federal Grid Gurus Working Together to Beat the Heat

It is critical that America modernize its electric grid if it is to lead the world and create jobs in the clean-energy economy of the future. There are a number of challenges that need to be addressed in order to build the 21st century grid, but right now, at the peak of this week’s intense heat spell, no challenge is more evident than that of the stress that sustained high temperatures can put on the electric grid. 

As of this afternoon, the heat index in Washington, DC, was 119 degrees Fahrenheit.  When temperatures are this extreme several days in a row, power companies scramble to manage peak demand, often urging consumers to turn off non-essential use of electricity.  In fact, some utilities in the Northeast are already reporting limited outages today.

New smart grid technologies can help consumers and utilities better manage extreme heat waves, through better information and through “demand response” technologies that automatically lower air conditioner settings or non-essential lights (while compensating consumers for those reduced services).

Just this week the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) passed a resolution endorsing the continuing modernization of the electric system with smart grid technologies.  In the resolution, NARUC put forth 15 “foundational principles” relating to advanced metering and smart grid deployments for state commissions, including:

  • Recognizing the potential of smart grid investments to improve reliability, provide a more resilient power system, and reduce electricity costs;
  • Using in-home devices, Web-based portals, and other tools and innovations to help consumers understand energy use and make more informed choices;  
  • Providing consumers with affordable and timely access to their own energy use data, with rules of access that balance privacy with innovation; and
  • Having regulators, as a condition of approving smart grid investments, require utilities to deploy smart grid technologies in a manner consistent with reasonable and effective cyber and physical security best practices. 

The NARUC continues that organization’s ongoing support for grid modernization with thoughtful policies that reflect the diverse needs of the states while recognizing the common interest in building an electric system to support the American economy of the future. For more than ten years, NARUC has addressed critical issues arising from advanced metering and smart grid deployments, including ratemaking, reliability, cyber security, consumer education, consumer protection, and privacy.  

This action by State Commissioners is also consistent with federal Smart Grid policy and builds upon the recent Administration release of President Obama’s “Policy Framework for the 21st Century Grid: Enabling Our Secure Energy Future,” issued on June 13, 2011.

In fact, the Administration worked closely with NARUC leadership and individual state regulators during the development of the Policy Framework, and showcased this collaboration last month.  The event featured utility commissioners from across the country and included remarks from NARUC President Tony Clark of North Dakota, who said: “New smart grid technologies could dramatically change how we use and consume electricity. But they also leave numerous unanswered questions that state commissions must consider. This is why a strong Federal-state relationship is essential as we move forward and make the electricity system work best for the consumers we all serve.”

Achieving sustained progress on grid modernization requires a partnership between states and the Federal government, as well as collaboration with the private sector, consumer groups, and other stakeholders, and we welcome this partnership.

Nick Sinai is Senior Advisor to the U.S. Chief Technology Officer

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