$8 billion in Smart Grid Investment: The PV part

Speaking at Florida Power and Light’s DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center in October, President Barack Obama announced the largest single energy grid modernization investment in U.S. history …

Speaking at Florida Power and Light’s DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center in October, President Barack Obama announced the largest single energy grid modernization investment in U.S. history: $3.4 billion in Smart Grid Investment Grant awards, which will be matched by industry funding for a total public-private investment worth over $8 billion. One hundred private companies, utilities, manu-facturers, cities and other partners received awards.

The idea behind this is that it will promote energy-saving choices for consumers, increase efficiency, and foster the growth of renewable energy sources like wind and solar. It’s also designed to make the grid—which Carol Browner, assistant to the president for energy and climate change, called “antiquated” and “dilapidated”—more reliable, reducing power outages that cost American consumers $150 billion a year.

Part of the investment will be that install of more than 850 sensors—called ‘phasor measurement units’ —that will cover 100 percent of the U.S. electric grid, and make it possible for grid operators to better monitor grid conditions and prevent minor disturbances in the electrical system from cascading into local or regional power outages or blackouts. Of key importance to the PV community: this monitoring ability will also help the grid to incorporate large blocks of intermittent renewable energy, like wind and solar power, to take advantage of clean energy resources when they are available and make adjustments when they’re not.

What could use more attention at the national level is net metering, which allows for the flow of electricity both to and from the customer – typically through a single, bi-directional meter. With net metering, during times when a customer’s generation exceeds the customer’s use, electricity from the customer flows back to the grid, offsetting electricity consumed by the customer at a different time. In effect, the customer uses excess generation to offset electricity that the customer otherwise would have to purchase at the utility’s full retail rate. Net metering is offered in more than 35 states, and required by law in most states, but some of these laws only apply to investor-owned utilities, not to municipal utilities or electric cooperatives (see www.dsireusa.org for more info).

$8B is a great start, but there’s a lot more to be done.

Pete Singer
Editor-in-Chief
psinger@pennwell.com

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