Faces of the Recovery Act: The Impact of Smart Grid
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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I’m pleased to announce that under the Recovery Act, we are making the largest ever investment in a smarter, stronger and more secure electric grid. This investment will come in the form of 100 grants, totaling $3.4 billion – grants that will go to private companies, utilities, cities and other partners who have applied with plans to install smartgrid technologies in their area.
KEN DEFONTES: The traditional way of doing our business has always been: We send the energy out; the consumer uses it and at the end of the month, we read the meter to figure out how much they’ve used. So they have no sense, as they’re consuming it, how much it costs. Contrast that to when you go into a store to buy groceries: You know exactly how much, you know, that bag of apples is going to cost when you go to the cash register. Suppose you knew about energy that way? Don’t you think it would make people more aware of how much they’re using?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Smart meters will allow you to actually monitor how much energy your family is using by the month, by the week, by the day or even by the hour. So coupled with other technologies, this is going to help you manage your electricity use and your budget at the same time.
MR. : So this is the legacy meter, where you’ve got moving dials inside the meter. He takes the index that’s on here today and basically subtracts the index that was on there the previous time he came. And that’s the total amount of usage that’s been used since the last time the reader came by and read the meter. So we really don’t know when the customer used the electricity; we just know how much they used since the last time the meter reader was there. With the new meters, we’re able to capture how much is being consumed during every hour of every day.
MR. DEFONTES: It gives customers the ability, real-time, to know how much energy they’re using, and they see immediate response when they lower the thermostat to a milder temperature in the winter, or they turn off the dishwasher and run it at night when prices are lower. They get immediate feedback. And so in addition to saving at peak time, we find customers are saving energy throughout the day, because they’re more aware of the actions that they take and how it affects the energy that they use.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: It’s expected to save consumers more than $20 billion over the next decade on their utility bills. And I know nobody minds seeing their utility bills cut.
NEEL GULHAR: One of the things that we had last year was a very compelling letter that we had from a customer. This woman was so excited. She saved about $120 over a four-month period. You know, she had just lost her job. She was able to cut her energy bill by a third. And she talked about the joy on her kids’ face when the orb turned green. The kids would run around the house and turn off all the lights. And it was kind of the whole family involved in saving money on their energy bill.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Such an investment won’t just create new pathways for energy. It’s expected to create tens of thousands of new jobs all across America, in areas ranging from manufacturing and construction, to IT and the installation of new equipment in homes and in businesses.
MR. DEFONTES: We think there’s close to 400 direct jobs: the physical labor necessary to go out and install all these meters; develop the computer systems that we’re going to need. Some of those jobs are going to be, certainly, high-tech; some of them are going to be service type jobs. We’re going to have people responding to customers’ inquiries, developing software applications for customers to be able to go online and look at their energy usage. So there’s a lot of jobs that are directly related to the physical work that are going, but also related technology jobs.
There’s probably another 13 (hundred) or 1,400 jobs that are created in the upstream: the creation of all these meters and the production of air conditioning switches, and sort of the collateral, you know, impacts that that has on the whole supply chain network. I think it’s going to have a very measurable and positive impact on the health of the communities that we serve.
MR. GULHAR: A lot of the technology that was put in place at the utilities several decades ago – in some cases, even, you know, close to a hundred years ago – that technology, fundamental technology, hasn’t changed much.
MR. DEFONTES: Next year, I’ll be celebrating my 38th service anniversary with the company. And I started out as an entry-level person. I was a – an actual summer intern. And for me, what this means is a transformation in the way in which we’ve done business in a way that I couldn’t have imagined almost 40 years ago when I started in this business.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: All this information will help increase renewable energy generation, provide support for plug-in electric vehicles and reduce the carbon pollution that causes climate change.
MR. DEFONTES: I like to think of it as bringing the electricity grid into the 21st century. We’re using modern technology to make life better, to save customers money and to improve how we do our job. And it’s that simple.