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Progress on Our 21st Century Grid: Powering Our Country and Our Economy

June 3, 2013 - 11:43am

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Investments in the nation's electric power grid are delivering significant benefits to consumers and businesses. | Photo courtesy of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Investments in the nation's electric power grid are delivering significant benefits to consumers and businesses. | Photo courtesy of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Since the start of the new year, I have spoken at more than a dozen events about ways in which investment in the electric power grid is delivering significant benefits to consumers, businesses, and communities across the nation.  We have been seeing progress for some time, with modernization efforts continuing, thanks to the Recovery Act which provided $4.5 billion in funds to help catalyze the adoption of smart technologies and systems designed to increase the electric grid’s flexibility, reliability, efficiency, affordability, and resiliency. Investments under the 2009 Recovery Act were intended to serve a dual mission: a primary mission of economic stimulus for the American workforce and the nation’s economy as a whole, and a secondary mission of supporting a specific program, which in this case is the modernization of the nation’s electric grid.

Modernizing the nation’s grid continues to be a priority for the President. Following the State of the Union address in February, the National Science and Technology Council released A Policy Framework for the 21st Century Grid: A Progress Report which highlights the Administration’s most recent achievements to make the nation’s electric grid stronger, smarter, and cleaner than ever before.  

On the economic front, a recent piece of good news involves our Economic Impact of Recovery Act Investments in the Smart Grid report. Our analysis shows that the combined DOE and industry investments of $2.96 billion from August 2009 until March 2012 generated at least $6.8 billion in total economic output. Those investments also supported at least 47,000 jobs across a wide range of industrial sectors, including computer systems design, technical and scientific services and consulting, and electrical equipment and component manufacturing. Other sectors that benefitted indirectly from the investments included real estate, wholesale trade, financial services, restaurants, and healthcare.  Another key finding: for every $1 million of direct spending (government plus private sector matching funds), gross domestic product (GDP) expanded by at least $2.5 million. This report is yet another encouraging sign that grid modernization is good for the country and good for America’s economic prosperity. 

But the Recovery Act-funded story doesn’t stop there. The progress from the Smart Grid Investment Grant (SGIG) and Smart Grid Demonstration (SGDP) projects takes many forms – from pricing programs that are helping customers better manage their electricity consumption to reductions in overall demand, improved outage management, operational efficiencies, and more. Critical investments in workforce development, interconnection planning, and state assistance are also part of the grid modernization portfolio. In the critical area of cybersecurity, utilities are taking steps to further strengthen the cybersecurity of the electric grid. True to our original intent, these smart grid activities – and the subsequent benefits – are being customized to meet the unique regional needs of communities and utilities.  

Continued modernization of the grid will take time and significant additional investment, and we will still face challenges.  Building on progress to date and our existing partnerships, we can tackle these challenges and realize even more innovative and exciting opportunities for consumers and communities.  As we continue to see results from the Recovery Act and other investments in grid modernization, we will continue reporting through the DOE blog, and the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability and smartgrid.gov web sites.  

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