Emerging Tech

White House to call on IT to help build US 'smart grid'

The White House will unveil new initiatives on Monday aimed at implementing a smart electric grid in the US. IT is expected to play an important role in the proposed solution.

Also read the follow-up article on the event itself: US taps IT and consumers to solve the 21st century energy challenge

On Monday, the Obama administration is preparing announce the next steps that the US will take to build its 21st century electric grid, and IT is expected to play a big part in the plans.

The White House is hosting a 90-minute media event called "Building the 21st Century Electric Grid" and is releasing a new report on what it will take for lawmakers and the private sector to come together to solve this aspect of the energy challenge.

The press invite from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy stated, "The Administration will announce a number of new public- and private-sector initiatives designed to accelerate the modernization of the nation's electric infrastructure, bolster electric-grid innovation, and advance a clean energy economy, in part by taking greater advantage of digital and communications or 'smart grid' technologies."

The event will feature a number of heavy hitters from the President's cabinet, including:

  • Steven Chu, Secretary of Energy
  • Aneesh Chopra, U.S. Chief Technology Officer
  • John Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology
  • Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture
  • David Hayes, Deputy Secretary of Interior
  • Nancy Sutley, Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality
  • Phil Weiser, National Economic Council Senior Advisor

Jesse Berst, chief analyst of SmartGridNews.com, reported, "We hear that a few leading utilities and at least one technology vendor will be featured as well. Our sources say the announcements will include a new nonprofit to encourage rapid implementation of consumer tools for choice and control."

Here's more from the official White House statement:

"Along with the announcement of new public and private initiatives aimed at building a smarter, expanded grid and empowering consumers, the Cabinet-level National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) will release a new report: 'A Policy Framework for the 21st Century Grid.' This policy framework charts a collaborative path forward for applying digital information or 'smart grid' technologies to the nation's electricity infrastructure to facilitate the integration of renewable sources of power into the grid; help accommodate the growing number of electric vehicles; help avoid blackouts and restore power quicker when outages occur; and reduce the need for new power plants."

In 2008, Obama made a series of campaign promises aimed at attacking the country's energy challenge. Some of the more popular aspects of his plan were talk about "green jobs" and the "smart grid." We'll see if Monday's announcement can start moving the ball down the field on both of those initiatives.

The event wil be streamed live at whitehouse.gov/live at 10:00AM Eastern on Monday and the NSTC report and other materials will be available at whitehouse.gov/ostp at that time.

President Obama receives a briefing on the BP oil spoil on July 21, 2010 at the White House. Credit: White House photostream

About

Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks (bit.ly/ftgeeks).

13 comments
wi11y
wi11y

why would I as an IT pro wish to participate in somthing that will weaken the security of the grid and our country????

Rob_J
Rob_J

Let's face it, the Smart Grid is not a magic bullet that will double the efficiency of appliances and save the world. Basically electricity is still, and will remain "dumb". As for DC power, I've worked on some ships that were exclusively DC powered. It might make sense for computers and TV's (except for how you change 125V DC into 12V DC readily and efficiently), but electric motors (refrigerators, A/C, washers, fans, etc...) will me more complex and expensive as a result. Ever have to change the brushes and cut your commutator on your dish washer motor? Any DC motor greater than a horsepower or two needs a motor controller/starter. LED lighting might be an option, but what about new CFL's on DC? Keep in mind that the Smart Grid is essentially a way to charge the customer more and more for less and less. At it's core it's real-time pricing at the residential consumer level and will undoubtly result in markely more expensive, not cheapter electric power. We will conserve and reduce engery consumption because it will be exhorbitantly expensive. Think about how much gasoline the US could save if it cost $8 or $10/gallon. Sure it's cheap to wash your dishes at 2AM (until everyone does it), but try running your air conditioner between 2 and 4PM - you will have to clean out your 401K to pay the electric bill. Or maybe you will get a nasty text message / e-mail or phone call when you use too much electricity. Think about the utility having the ability to shut things off in your house willy-nilly to give you a reasonable bill. Meanwhile "preferred" customers that have money for a deluxe utility package get uninterupted service. There is a while to go for this at residential level of service but once the framework is in place anything is possible. Most of this exists already for large commercial customers that justify dedicated special metering. Coming soon to your residential electric bill courtesy of Smart Grid 1) Real time pricing - highest price is usually co-incident with most convientient and most needed time of use. 2) Peak use charges 3) Power-factor/VAR charges - just to name a few. So don't kid yourself about "green". There is no "Smart" electricity that will make the electric system 100% efficient, Smart Grid is about charging ever increasing amounts to the customers and monitoring and controlling how much electricity you use and when you use it. Now throw on top some of the security concerns that have been raised on top of this. It's annoying and potentially financially damaging when your computer is taken over by some hackers, what about the chaos that will ensue with someone sitting in a foreign country can remotely controll much of the electrical infrastructre in the US, right down to the lamp at your bedside. What about the personal privacy and security? It should be trivial to deduce if someone is home or not on a daily basis or on vacation based on their usage patterns. There are far many things to consider besides the technical and IT aspects of this. Things to think about...

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

We can't secure individual companies, yet the smart grid will interconnect everything. Also, curious as to why some one like Howard Schmidt (current administration's security czar) is not involved.

Alpha_Dog
Alpha_Dog

Based on this article, it will become a buzzword generator for politicians who know nothing of the acronyms they spout to woo the voters into choosing them despite facts. In general? My predictions for the next decade: 1. Chip level hybrid circuits built on Graphene substrates. Already heading this direction, but the level of integration possible means smaller, thinner, more efficient devices. It can also mean new medical sensors integrated into disposable devices that are biologically inert. 2. Power consumption. While the numbers of computers increase as computing devices become ubiquitous, the power consumed will be less... much less. I have a server on my desk that draws 22 Watts that blows the socks off of a IBM x-series. 3. DC power. Edison had a decent idea... for sending power over long distances. I a modern home it's stupid. Nearly everything we own must rectify the AC to DC and reduce the voltage, not necessarily in that order. The inefficiencies of the transformers, regulators, and the like make it logical to convert AC to DC once outside the home and use it for everything from lighting to entertainment and IT equipment. 4. Proliferation of small scale home power generation systems. Here in Colorado I will put a wind generator up, but solar is also an option. Connecting these to a DC powered home is trivial. Connecting these to an AC grid is not. 5. Power storage. The ability to make power is grand and sharing it back into the grid where it can be used by others is a great idea, but not all states force the power companies to cut you a check. Here in Colorado, you can zero out your bill for everything but administrative fees, but anything beyond that the power company need not pay you for. With the larger banks of batteries with vast capacities for EVs, it would be a no-brainer to wire this into a home for your use and tell the grid, smart or not, to take a hike. 6. Ubiquitous internet wireless access. Nope, despite several companies' claims, we are not there yet, especially in the mountain states. I have a client who is on the wrong side of the mountain for satellite, no cell reception, and no land line (unless she wants to shell out about $85,000.00 for the line). We were able to connect her with a point to point wireless link. Her last mile is about 14. I can't see entering the middle of the 21st century with these kind of gaps. 7. Integrated knowledge. We are almost there with the proliferation of wireless devices and knowledge vendors like Google, Wolfram, and others. When we are able to seamlessly integrate access to the knowledge stores with our everyday lives we will be a step closer to merging with the machines and developing a group consciousness. 8. Send a man to the moon... again. Unfortunately, unless something changes real quick, that person will be planting a Chinese flag instead of a corporate logo. This time we need to stay or not bother going.

Alpha_Dog
Alpha_Dog

You are right that this will be a way for the power industry to charge us more. Hence my reason for the "buzzword generator for politicians to sell is to the ignorant consumer" comment. Simply put "Smart" is the new "Green". As far as DC is concerned, I feel we should have AC into the house where we use the grid to run appliances which are more efficient on AC (as you named a dew) as well as use a grid tie inverter to sell the surplus back to the power company, but we need legislation to make this available in all states. CFLs don't work worth beans on DC. The need the AC to run through the ballast to step up the voltage to get the gas to emit light. Yes you can do that on DC too, but the AC process is at least twice as efficient. That said, using DC to run LED lighting (done properly) is about twice as efficient as CFLs and last many times longer. Further they produce less hazmat as waste in both the production and disposal.

JCitizen
JCitizen

By the time folks get electric vehicles, home solar panels, and perhaps some wind energy on the "smart grid", you will want this feature - as it will help manage and pay royalties to excess energy generated or stored by the home owner. This would help pay for the infrastructure the home owner had to cough up out of their own back pocket!

wizard57m-cnet
wizard57m-cnet

Hmmm, I would almost wager that even if the flag had a corporate logo on it it would also have a tag that reads "Made in China".

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

World poverty, FTL and cold fusion, probably in a new Star Trek film. I see various members of the legislature getting the problem of funding their next campaign for office resolved, maybe some web devlopers getting a few contracts for and against green... And one or two big players sucking up a lot of tax dollars trying to execute a plan designed by committee to meet a multiplicity of public and private agendas. Business as usual....

rossbinkley
rossbinkley

Actually, smart grid technologies would generally be fooled by home generation. "Smart grid" refers to balancing online resources versus expected and actual usage. However, home generation systems would not report to the control systems and would be more likely to mess up the smart grid than to help it, due to the unpredictable nature of when home systems would be producing power. Also, the smart grid would have nothing to do with the compensation of home generated power put back on the grid. That is done by simply reading the meter. When the home is generating more power than it's using, the meter just runs backwards. No 'smart grid' required for that.

Rob_J
Rob_J

Here on Long Island in NY, there is no smart gird / smart metering yet, but a lot of other conservation measures and programs - new appliance rebates, free energy audits, insulation upgrades and some solar. We have a surcharge to make up for falling / lost revenues as well as for the costs for the conservation measures.

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