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Study: U.S. needs smart grid collaboration to recharge power grid

SUBNET Solutions Inc | Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A recent study conducted by Vermont Law School (VLS) found that the U.S. is currently in a critical era, and will need substantial collaboration between electric utilities, government organizations, industry leaders and academia to create the form of smart grid needed for the 21st century.

At the VLS's Institute for Energy and the Environment, researchers are analyzing hurdles utilities and other agencies and organizations will likely face, including legal, political and regulatory road blocks, when outfitting the current electric system with new smart grid technologies. With the federal government providing $3.4 billion in funds to utilities and other groups, smart grid deployment is clearly high on America's agenda.

The study found that some states, including Vermont, California and Texas, are ahead of others in paving the way for smart grid integration, and have shown a balanced approach to implementing new systems concerning the smart grid.

In Vermont, one utility has addressed a wide range of smart grid challenges after initially working to solve just one, according to Green Tech Media.

The news source states that in 2000, Vermont Electric Cooperative decided to make power outages, a common problem in Vermont, a less frustrating experience. By 2010, the company had received $5.2 million in ARRA stimulus funds in a $69 million package given to Vermont strictly for smart grid projects, which led to the deployment of metering, distribution automation and other new technologies.

After a huge 2010 snowstorm, the Public Utilities Commission did not receive a single complaint, but rather about 150 thank-you notes for the new equipment's reliability.

"Vermonters understand that the power goes out," said David Hallquist of the co-op. "It’s a question of providing the information and a two-way dialog."

Now, VLS is performing studies on seven utilities around the country to determine best practices that could be projected to regions across the nation. Utilities to be studied include Commonwealth Edison, Pecan Street Project, Salt River Project and San Diego Gas and Electric, among others.

Key findings from the study include the need for clear policies similar to those in California, collaboration among the states and the detriments of uncertainty, which researchers say will impede deployment of the smart grid.

"Without clear cost recovery policies for utilities, the smart grid’s reliability and environmental benefits won’t be fully realized," the report concluded.

As the nation continues to develop its smart grid, utilities will look to industry experts like SUBNET to aid in installing substation automation software that meets current cybersecurity regulations.  

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