US Politicians Throw Weight Behind Grid Innovation

A new Grid Innovation Caucus in the US Congress is set to play a key role in furthering smart grid development.
Published: Mon 29 Sep 2014

The impacts of smart grid development in the US are now being observed with respect to gains in reliability, efficiency, and consumer involvement. [Engerati-The US Grid Is Getting Smarter – Impacts Are Noticeable] But with much of this activity having occurred under the stimulus of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), further efforts will need to be put into maintaining this momentum and a new Grid Innovation Caucus in the House of Representatives could play a key role in this.

Led by Republican Renee Ellmers of North Carolina and Democrat Jerry McNerney of California, the Caucus has been launched as a bipartisan body to promote awareness of technologies transforming the electric grid.

“As our energy needs increase and evolve, we must continue to promote innovative technologies that will provide additional options for consumers, businesses and the economy,” said Congresswoman Ellmers. “By launching this caucus as a bipartisan initiative, Democrats and Republicans can work together to share ideas and look at all of our energy resources in an open and constructive manner.”

Congressman McNerney echoed similar sentiments: “As a former wind energy engineer and patent-holder, I know firsthand how important design and technology are to moving our energy efficiently and safely.  I’m excited about creating a forum to work with our colleagues in Congress, and with American businesses and academics to come up with the best way to improve our infrastructure.”

Support for Grid Innovation Caucus

The launch of the Caucus was supported by the US smart grid coalition GridWise Alliance, National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) and other industry partners including California utility Pacific Gas & Electric and energy giant ABB.

GridWise Alliance CEO Becky Harrison described the Caucus as vital in providing a platform for a range of stakeholders from across the broader energy ecosystem to discuss the ways in which the US electricity grid must evolve to meet America’s energy needs. “The impacts to the grid, the utility business models and regulatory models are clearly linked and must be addressed in a comprehensive approach; this Caucus can help raise awareness about these issues. Moreover, the Caucus can also help bring the key stakeholders together to help identify actionable steps to evolve our electric grid.”

Smart grid innovation

Kevin J. Cosgriff, NEMA President and CEO, said: “Technological innovation is at the heart of modernizing the electric grid. Not only are NEMA manufacturers committed to developing the technologies that will ensure a reliable, resilient, and interoperable electrical grid, they are well along the path of bringing these enhancements to market. With the creation of this caucus, [Representatives McNerney and Ellmers] are demonstrating their commitment to addressing the challenges and opportunities facing the nation.”

Monty Tripp, Vice President of Government Affairs for ABB Inc, said: “In the past ten years technology advances have fundamentally transformed our electricity delivery system. But we are still at the gateway of grid innovation and need engaged, informed policymakers to help guide the path ahead. The new caucus offers a platform for bipartisan discussion and education and we are looking forward to working with and supporting it.”

Kevin Dasso, Senior Director of Technology and Information Strategy at PG&E, said: “PG&E looks forward to working with the Grid Innovation Caucus to help the advancement of smart principles and technologies that will truly benefit the American people. Our customers have already benefited from our implementation of smart grid technology, and I applaud Representatives McNerney and Ellmers for their leadership on this important issue.”

Leadership on smart grid

Steve Hauser, President of New West Technologies, LLC, and founder of the GridWise Alliance, also commented: “Our industry has been looking for more leadership from Congress on these important issues, and we are pleased to see key members stepping up to the challenge and raising the visibility to their colleagues.”

The mission of the Grid Innovation Caucus is to educate members of Congress and staff about the importance of the electric grid to the economy and the ability to innovate and modernize the grid to bring it into the 21st century. The Caucus will support education and outreach activities to highlight innovative technologies and efforts that help enhance grid reliability and resilience, as well as improve economic growth and competitiveness.

New smart grid business opportunities

Both Congresswoman Ellmers and Congressman McNerney are obviously keenly aware of the importance of smart grid activities. The North Carolina ‘Research Triangle’ centred on the towns of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill and San Francisco are home to the two largest concentrations of smart grid sector companies in the US. For example in the Triangle there are more than 60 sector companies providing employment for more than 3,000 people. Exploring new opportunities for these companies and encouraging advanced research and development will also fall within the ambit of the new Caucus.

Thus, besides its potential impact nationally the Caucus could also play a role in stimulating smart grid development elsewhere, for example with the opportunities for US companies created through USAID funding.

The Caucus could also serve as a model for other countries to share information – and counter disinformation – at the highest level.