Amidst a backdrop of increasing renewable electricity demand from consumers and questions about the ability of electrical grids to handle the extra power sources, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) plans to distribute more than $3.3 billion in smart-grid technology development grants and an additional $615 million for smart grid storage, monitoring and technology viability, as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Vice President Joe Biden, with Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, announced the DOE plans on a recent visit to Jefferson City, Mo. The DOE says the grants will help develop a smart and secure electrical grid, which will create new jobs and help deliver reliable power more effectively with less impact on the environment.
The DOE Smart Grid Investment Grant Program will provide grants ranging from $500,000 to $20 million for smart-grid technology deployments, and grants of $100,000 to $5 million for the deployment of grid monitoring devices. This program provides matching grants of up to 50 percent for investments planned by electric utilities and other entities to deploy smart-grid technologies.
In addition, the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) released its annual assessment of leading utility green power programs. NREL says under these voluntary programs, consumers can choose to help support additional electricity production from renewable resources such as wind and solar.
An industry watchdog told Reuters that the push to add more renewable wind and solar power to the U.S. electric mix will force changes in the way the power grid operates to keep electricity flowing reliably.
A report from the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC) states that many types of renewable power are much different from power plants that burn coal or natural gas, that can be turned off and on as needed to meet power demand, which creates integration issues for operators of the bulk-power network, reported Reuters. The NERC report details initial steps needed for reliable integration of large-scale wind and solar generation systems into the electric grid.
According to the NREL assessment report, more than 850 utilities across the United States now offer green power programs. Green power sales in 2008 increased by about 20 percent over 2007, and they represent more than 5 percent of total electricity sales for some of the most popular programs. Wind is the primary source of electricity generated for green energy programs nationwide.
The NREL report ranks the top 10 utility programs for 2008 by the following categories, total sales of renewable energy to program participants, total number of customer participants, the percentage of customer participation, green power sales as a percentage of total utility retail electricity sales, and the lowest price premium charged for a green power program using new renewable resources. Click here for the rankings.