Office of Electricity

Smart Grid Projects Are Improving Performance and Helping Consumers Better Manage their Energy Use

November 14, 2014

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After nearly five years, the 131 smart grid projects funded through the 2009 Recovery Act are nearing completion and the results are significant. Smart grid applications are producing meaningful benefits for grid operators and customers alike. Utilities have found that:

  • Automated distribution feeder switches minimize the frequency of sustained outages, shorten the duration of outages and minimize the number of affected customers by rerouting power when the electric system is disrupted.
  • Automated voltage controls reduce energy losses, peak demand, and customer bills by adjusting voltage levels along local power lines.
  • Remotely accessible smart meters reduce operating costs, improve outage management and customer services, and enable new customer choices for dynamic pricing, web portals, and other tools for understanding electricity use.

Simply put, smart grid technologies work. That was the overriding message from 39 utilities that participated in The Smart Grid Experience:  Applying Results, Reaching Beyond, sponsored by U.S. Department of Energy and the Electric Power Research Institute in Charlotte, NC on October 27-29, 2014.

Since 2009, DOE and the electric power industry have invested more than $9.5 billion in cost-shared smart grid deployments to modernize the electric grid, improve reliability, engage consumers, and enable the integration of more renewable and distributed energy resources. Yet this effort is just a fraction of the massive investment and structural change needed to transform our Nation’s aging electricity infrastructure into a more robust, automated grid that integrates new devices, information systems, and digital controls.

Where do we go from here? More work needs to be done to:

  • Communicate the value of successful smart grid applications to regulators and customers to inform investment decisions, recognizing that each utility and jurisdiction will have unique needs.
  • Invest in reliable, high-bandwidth communications infrastructure to enable better sensing and control of the systems.
  • Develop advanced software systems to automate operation of intelligent end-devices and optimize performance.
  • Develop new software systems to allow grid operators to analyze data to improve grid reliability, resilience, efficiency, and performance.
  • Adopt new business models that incorporate win-win incentives to stimulate electric infrastructure investment.
  • Develop power electronic-based devices, system designs and control schemes to enable two-way power flow, and
  • Continue to evolve towards customer-centric systems that provide more information, options, and  opportunities to offer energy and services back to the grid.

Successful deployment of complex smart grid systems requires something more. It requires the integration of technologies, business processes, and workers across each organization to redefine how power will be produced, delivered, and managed in a digital world. As Will Odell from Snohomish Public Utility District noted during the DOE-EPRI Charlotte meeting:  "culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

Presentations from the October meeting can be found at http://smartgrid.epri.com/Presentations/PresentationsWorkshops.aspx. Further information on the results coming in from the Recovery Act smart grid projects, including recently published case studies and upcoming reports can be found at www.smartgrid.gov.