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A Billion Dollars and Counting in Smart Meter Applications

At first deadline for federal smart grid applications, smart meter buildouts figure prominently

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The deadline for grant applications to the government smart grid investment program was last week, on Aug. 6. About two fifths of program funding is earmarked for small grants, from $300,000 to $20 million, and three fifths for grants of $20-200 million. Three energy companies applied for $200 million grants to deploy smart meters: CenterPoint Energy, Houston; Dominion Virgina Power, Richmond; and Florida Power & Light, Miami. Oncor, Dallas, filed for $317 million for smart meter deployment and network improvement, and Commonwealth Edison, Chicago, for $175 million for smart meters.

Announcement of the filings raises in this blogger's mind an issue analogous to what's called "additionality" in the context of carbon trading: are some of the energy companies obtaining government money to do things they already were intending to do anyway, relying wholly on their own resources? According to a Spectrum compilation published earlier this year, even before the adoption of the U.S. stimulus bill energy companies around the country had announced plans to spend billions of dollars installing smart meters. Companies in California and Texas alone had plans to spend $6 billion.

So will this part of the stimulus bill actually make anything truly new happen? So far, like the car battery grants program, it has been surprisingly uncontroversial.

The Conversation (0)
This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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