Taking Action for a Stronger, Smarter, Cleaner Electric Grid

Today, the Obama Administration’s National Science and Technology Council released A Policy Framework for the 21st Century Grid: A Progress Report—an update highlighting the Administration’s most recent achievements to make the Nation’s electric grid stronger, smarter, and cleaner than ever before.

In his State of the Union address this month, President Obama recognized that “no area holds more promise than our investments in American energy.” As part of his plan to grow the economy and create middle class jobs, the President called for continued investment in infrastructure, including “self-healing power grids.” In the same address, he also warned against ignoring the “overwhelming judgment of science” that the threat of climate change is real and demands attention. These two calls to action—each independently important to our country’s future—intersect at the Nation’s electric system.

To date, the Obama Administration has taken a number of important steps to help the Nation prevent and recover quickly from power outages, including by working closely with industry partners to upgrade the electric system with “smart grid” technologies that can detect and prevent outages, improve system efficiency, and better integrate clean energy sources. While we’ve come a long way, recent extreme weather events have reinforced the reality that our work is not done. Many Americans suffered power loss during the spate of strong storms, droughts, and record high temperatures of the past year—all of which, to varying degrees, threatened the operation of the Nation’s electric grid. We can do better.

Investing to modernize the grid is a common sense approach to enhance energy reliability for consumers, improve security of critical infrastructure, and speed the Nation’s transition to a clean-energy economy. That’s why, in the past year-and-a-half, the Administration has ramped up efforts to build a smart 21st century grid. Since June 2011—in partnership with utilities, communities, and local governments across the country—the Obama Administration has taken concrete steps to:

  • Incorporate New Technology into the Grid. Nearly 13 million smart meters, 5,000 automated distribution circuits, and several hundred advanced grid sensors have been integrated into the Nation’s electric system under the Recovery Act to improve system efficiency and reliability by diagnosing, pinpointing, and solving problems before they disrupt business operations or household activities.
  • Support Grid Modernization in Rural America. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Utility Service met its goal of delivering more than $250 million in loans for smart grid technology deployment to rural areas—a step that will help catalyze economic development in those regions.
  • Train an Advanced Workforce for an Advanced Grid. Under the Recovery Act, smart grid workforce training awards comprising nearly $100 million across 50 projects are creating training opportunities to produce the skilled professionals needed to operate a modernized grid. These grants have benefited military veterans by helping them connect to well-paying civilian opportunities. To date, $46.2 million has been distributed.
  • Improve Opportunities for Customers to Save Money. The Green Button initiative, launched in January 2012, has already provided new and improved energy-use monitoring tools to more than 16 million homes and businesses. In the coming year or so, the program is on track to reach another 20 million homes and businesses, with the aim of helping consumers make better-informed energy decisions and save on their bills.
  • Keep the Grid Secure from Cyber and Physical Disruption. The President recently signed an Executive Order to strengthen the cybersecurity of critical infrastructure industries, including the electric power sector. New tools such as the Electric Sector Cybersecurity Capability Maturity Model are being developed for utilities to enhance the protection of critical infrastructure from cybersecurity threats. Other efforts such as the Recovery Transformer program aim to drastically reduce the time needed to recover from downed extra-high-voltage transformers and other physical assets. 

Going forward, the Administration will continue to look for new ways to work with the electric sector and state governments to modernize grid infrastructure, facilitate development of new tools to support a clean and efficient energy economy, empower customers to make smart energy decisions, foster new areas for innovation, and protect our critical infrastructure from threats.

Continuing our work toward a stronger, smarter, cleaner electric system will benefit American families and communities, and ensure our Nation remains competitive and innovative in a 21st century economy.

Read the full Progress Report here.

Nick Sinai is US Deputy CTO at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

Rick Duke is Associate Director for Energy and Climate Change at the White House Council on Environmental Quality and Domestic Policy Council

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