Gridweek Conference Advances Smart Grid Vision, Funding, Networking
WASHINGTON, DC, September 22, 2009 (ENS) - A stronger, smarter, more efficient electricity infrastructure that will encourage growth in renewable energy, empower consumers to reduce their energy use, and lay the foundation for sustained, long-term economic expansion is in America's future, Energy Secretary Steven Chu told energy industry executives on Monday.

To begin making the vision of a national, clean energy smart grid vision a reality, Secretary Chu announced $144 million in economic stimulus funding for the electric power industry.

In his keynote speech to the GridWeek 2009 Conference on opening day of the four-day event in Washington, Chu said the stimulus funding includes $44 million in awards to state public utility commissions and $100 million for smart grid workforce training programs.

"America cannot build a 21st century energy economy with a mid-20th century electricity system. This is why the Obama administration is investing in projects that will lay the foundation for a modernized, resilient electrical grid," said Chu.

The Sun rises over SunEdison's photovoltaic power plant near Alamosa, Colorado. (Photo by Tom Stoffel courtesy NREL)

In his presentation, Chu quoted President Barack Obama who said, "We'll fund a better, smarter electricity grid and train workers to build it - a grid that will help us ship wind and solar power from one end of this country to another."

Right now, America is falling behind other countries in the clean energy race, Chu said, but the Recovery Act funding is expected to double non-hydroelectric renewable power generation and set the stage for widespread deployment of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles that could vault the U.S. to the front of this rapidly developing field.

"By working with industry leaders and the private sector, we can drive the evolution to a clean, smart, national electricity system that will create jobs, reduce energy use, expand renewable energy production, and cut carbon pollution," the energy secretary said.

The $100 million workforce training initiative will expand job creation and career advancement opportunities associated with smart grid and electricity transmission projects through two primary workforce training strategies.

Between $35 and $40 million will go to develop training programs, strategies and curricula that will be used as models for how to train or retrain workers in the electric power sector. This funding will be open to utilities, colleges and universities, trade schools, and labor organizations.

The remaining $60 to $65 million will be used to conduct workforce training programs for new hires and retraining programs for electric utility workers and electrical equipment manufacturers to advance knowledge of smart grid technologies and their implementation.

State public utility commissions, which regulate and oversee electricity projects in their states, will be receiving more than $44.2 million in Recovery Act funding to hire new staff and retrain existing employees to ensure they have the capacity to quickly and effectively review the large number of electric utility proposals that are expected under the Recovery Act.

State PUCs will be reviewing electric utility investments in projects such as energy efficiency, renewable energy, carbon capture and storage, transmission lines, energy storage, smart grid, demand response equipment, and electric and hybrid-electric vehicles.

But there are many hurdles to be surmounted in the move to a smart grid, Chu told the conference. Both wind and solar are variable and intermittent sources of energy. When clouds cover the Sun or the wind fails to blow, energy storage and scheduling becomes critical to providing stable, constant electricity to consumers.

Chu explained how the federal electric utility Bonneville Power Administration, which supplies power to the Pacific Northwest, is installing 14 anemometers, devices used for measuring wind speed and direction, to help predict how much wind energy will be available in any given hour.

High voltage power lines in the Pacific Northwest (Photo courtesy BPA)

Because the ups and downs of wind rarely match the demand patterns for electricity, power schedulers rely on other resources, such as hydropower, to compensate for the variable nature of wind generation. Water can be held in reserve behind Bonneville's dams to compensate for drop-offs in wind, but the greater the reserves, the more expensive they are.

"These challenges can be mitigated to the degree that wind can become more predictable as a power source," BPA said in a statement on installing its first anemometer in August. All 14 of the devices will be installed by the end of October. The agency expects to develop a complete wind forecasting system by March 2010, and by September 2010 BPA dispatchers will have display screens of real-time wind generation and next-hour wind forecasts.

Chu said "peak demand reduction is paramount" in supplying energy for the future and achieving reduction in demand during peak hours requires a smart grid and dynamic pricing that allows consumers who draw energy at off-peak periods to pay less. The energy secretary wants to empower consumers to reduce demand for electricity during peak hours by providing "the tools and incentives to manage their energy use and eliminate waste."

At the Gridweek trade show, companies are demonstrating their latest developments. AREVA North America, a branch of the French nuclear energy company AREVA, is showing its data management suite of tools for wholesale and retail electricity markets.

AREVA was awarded a Department of Energy grant in July to study global best practices in grid management tools and operations strategies for wind plants.

"AREVA is committed to finding solutions for expanding CO2-free power generation, such as renewables and nuclear energy, and doing it in ever more efficient ways. Using our cutting-edge smart grid technologies to facilitate better use of renewable generation is a great way that AREVA can use its expertise to help meet our energy and environmental goals," said Jacques Besnainou, president of AREVA North America.

Secretary Chu said one of the key challenges in developing the smart grid will be data sharing and data ownership, and companies are now in the process of developing their smart grid communications capabilities and networks.

Exhibitors ABB, the power and automation technology company, and Trilliant Inc., which provides secure smart grid two-way communications, today announced successful interoperability of Trilliant's communications network with ABB's Station Automation and Protection products.

"The successful deployment of Smart Grid networks around the world requires cooperation, innovation, and shared best practices," said Andy White, Trilliant president and CEO. "The demonstrated interoperability of Trilliant's SecureMesh network with ABB's automation products is another significant proof point in the maturation of the Smart Grid."

Gridweek exhibitor Cisco announced how the company is applying its expertise in networking for the Internet to development of "an end-to-end, highly secure Smart Grid communications infrastructure that will help utility companies and their customers optimize energy supply and demand, improve smart grid security and reliability, and reduce operational costs."

Cisco is creating a Smart Grid Ecosystem to facilitate the adoption of Internet Protocol, IP-based communications standards for smart grids that can be used by the energy industry as well as business and residential customers. The initial list of 24 participating companies includes some of the industry's largest such as GE and Siemens.

Cisco has just joined the ZigBee Alliance, a global ecosystem of companies creating wireless solutions for use in energy management, commercial and consumer applications.

Earlier this month, ZigBee announced its membership in the Demand Response and Smart Grid Coalition, the trade association for companies providing technologies, products and services in the demand response and smart grid areas.

"This is a great opportunity for both organizations and for their members," said Dan Delurey, executive director of DRSG. "ZigBee is an active organization working to introduce new technology into the marketplace and we look forward to helping it keep its members aware of how evolving policy developments in Washington may affect market requirements for the smart grid."

Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. All rights reserved.