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Smart Grid: Building a Wireless Connection

October 7, 2010 - 2:41pm

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Despite the many incremental improvements that have been made to our electricity system since its inception, if George Westinghouse, Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla examined the grid today, they would find a technology that operates in much the same manner as when they were alive. Certainly, the same wouldn’t be true of Alexander Graham Bell if you presented him with a cell phone. That’s a comparison that speaks volumes about the lack of attention received by our electrical system and the fundamental need to bring our grid into the 21st century.

There are plenty of reasons why modernizing the grid is of paramount importance to this Administration. Along with creating tens of thousands of new jobs, a modernized grid will give consumers and businesses the information they need to reduce their energy consumption – and better manage their energy bills. We can probably save about 20 percent of our total energy consumption just by being made aware of when and how we use electricity, and changing our ways accordingly.

Modernizing the grid will help us pave the way for the coming wave of electric vehicles so that the increase in electricity consumption won’t overload the system. Smart grid technologies, tools and techniques will also help us reduce the risk of service interruptions of blackouts by giving utilities real-time information about the health of their power networks.

Additionally, a modernized grid will enable the country to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by aiding the integration of domestic and clean renewable energy sources like solar and wind power.

But there are obstacles we must overcome to achieve this vision. One of the key challenges we face is educating consumers to understand what it means to be an active participant in their electric grid. They need to see electricity for what it is and how a smarter grid can be the means for putting energy decisions into their own hands and savings in their pockets.

While we don’t have all of the answers yet, there is one thing we know with certainty: the wireless industry is going to be a key contributor, both as an active participant and as a role model.

After all, a smart grid is predicated on communication. It’s going to involve the transmission of data over communication networks – appliances will be need to be seamlessly cycled on and off, substations will need to relay information when a switch fails, and consumers will need constant access to dynamic energy pricing and usage data. The Department recognizes that integrated, two-way, wireless communications are attractive for smart grid implementation because they make real-time interaction possible.

As the electricity industry evolves, moving from Electricity 1.0 to Electricity 2.0 the evolution of the wireless industry serves as a valuable reminder of what’s possible when you open an industry up to new competition and capital and allow new business models to take root.

With energy infrastructure now primed for major investments, we have a unique opportunity to generate net new jobs – adding tens of thousands of positions in support of new energy technologies, while arming existing energy employees with the skills they will need to take part in the clean energy transformation.

To meet the challenges I’ve mentioned, we can’t rely on 20th century solutions. In modernizing the grid we also need to modernize our approaches. Electricity 1.0 served America well. Now we need a more flexible system for delivering power intelligently. We need Electricity 2.0. The extent to which that comes to pass will determine whether we are able to effectively compete in the 21st century, whether we will create the kinds of jobs that we can pass on to our children and grandchildren and whether we will get a handle on our growing energy demand and emissions.

We’re excited about the road ahead – and you should be too. We look forward to working with the wireless industry to help America take ownership over its energy future – and lay the foundation for our country’s clean energy economy.

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