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Press Releases :: July 23, 2009

Members, Witnesses Discuss Transition to A Smart Grid

(Washington, DC) – Today, the Committee on Science and Technology’s Subcommittee on Energy and Environment held a hearing on the progress towards transform our electricity delivery system to a smart grid, including the roles of the federal government and industry in the transition from our current aging power generation and distribution infrastructure to the next generation of electrical infrastructure, called the smart grid. 

“Even today with tremendous advancements in technology, electrification is considered the greatest engineering achievement of the 20th century,” said Subcommittee Chairman Brian Baird (D-WA). “However, parts of this infrastructure are nearly a century old, and our increased reliance on electrical power is straining this systems’ capacity.” 
 
The smart grid is a two-way communication system for managing our electric infrastructure that offers utilities and consumers more information regarding electricity supply, consumption, and price which would ultimately modify patterns of electricity usage. 
 
It would give consumers access to real-time pricing, which will enable them to use energy when the price is lowest. For example, if electric use in an area is high, customers will see that the price at that time is higher, and they may choose to limit or delay energy usage until the price goes down, like running the dishwasher later in the evening instead of right after dinner, when the air conditioning and the television are also running. 
 
“A smart grid will operate more efficiently and reliably and empower consumers to more actively engage in energy usage decisions,” said Baird.  “The technology to encourage their participation in these decisions will be at their fingertips.”
 
Flattening the peaks in demand will benefit the utilities as well as the consumers. Demand for power varies greatly depending on a number of factors, including the time of day and the season. The electricity supply system must be able to generate enough electricity to meet the maximum anticipated demand, or peak demand, even though the system may only operate at peak demand for periods as short as few days or hours per year. Shedding load at peak demand times will help to relieve stress on the grid and avoid costly infrastructure and maintenance costs. Reducing peak demand also allows utilities to reduce reliance on its least efficient generating plants that are necessary to meet peak demand.
 
Utility companies would also receive notice when and exactly where there is an outage, enabling them to repair it more quickly, instead of waiting for reports from customers then dispatching workers who would have to search for the source of the problem.
 
The smart grid will also improve efficiency throughout the system. According to the Department of Energy (DOE), if the U.S. were to improve the efficiency of the grid by 5%, the energy savings would equate to permanently eliminating the fuel and greenhouse gas emissions from 53 million cars.
 
The smart grid will also be better able to effectively integrate power generated from renewable energy technologies, energy storage technologies, and demand management practices. 
  
The transition to a smart grid is a collective effort involving numerous stakeholders, including the federal and state governments and the private sector. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is creating a framework for standards that will ensure interoperability of smart grid devices and systems. Rates and regulation are set at the state level and by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. DOE is managing research and demonstration programs. Industry is pursuing innovative technologies to be incorporated into the system. Witnesses at the hearing representing stakeholders assured Members that they recognize the importance of collaboration for a successful transition to a smart grid.  
 
The Energy Investment and Security Act of 2007 and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 authorized and funded smart grid activities at DOE and NIST. The Administration’s FY 2010 budget request included a line item request for smart grid research, development and demonstration for $67 million.
 
For more information, please see the Committee’s website.
 
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