The Obama Administration announced a number of new initiatives designed to accelerate the modernization of U.S. electric-grid infrastructure — including deploying smart-grid technologies — to facilitate the integration of renewable sources, accommodate electric vehicles, avoid blackouts and restore power more quickly, and reduce the need for new power plants. The initiatives include $250 million in loans for smart-grid technology deployment as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service (RUS), which is focused on upgrading the electric grid in rural America.

In addition, the cabinet-level White House Office of Science and Technology Policy also released a report from the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) that defines four overarching smart-grid goals the administration will pursue, including economic incentives to boost deployment of smart-grid technologies; standards and interoperability to enable greater innovation; empowerment of consumers with enhanced information to save energy, ensure privacy, and shrink bills; and better grid security and resilience. Goals outlined in the NSTC report, "A Policy Framework for the 21st Century Grid," are essential to America's ability to lead the world in clean and reliable energy, John Holdren, President Obama's science and technology advisor, said in a statement.

"By unlocking the potential of innovation in the electric grid, we are allowing consumers and businesses to use energy more efficiently even as we help utilities provide cleaner energy and more reliable service," Holdren said.

First-generation smart-grid consumer products and services — such as thermostats that can be controlled from a smartphone or websites that show how much energy a house is using — help Americans save money on their electricity bills, and there is great potential to do even more, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. In fact, Vilsack said the adoption of distributed energy generation sources (such as solar panels on rooftops), emerging energy-storage technologies, and electric vehicles are all spurring changes in how and when energy is being used by U.S. businesses and consumers.

"This is one more step in our effort to modernize rural America's electric grid," Vilsack said.

Vilsack recently announced that more than 54,000 customers in 20 states will benefit from electric infrastructure improvement projects funded with loan guarantees provided through USDA, saying publicly the Obama Administration believes that "modernized infrastructure is a necessary part of the foundation for long-term economic stability and prosperity and that includes a modernized electrical grid." For example, his agency is providing funding that will build 4,342 miles of new distribution lines, improve 2,966 miles of existing distribution lines, build 260 miles of transmission lines, and upgrade 58 miles of exiting transmission lines with $1.55 billion total investments as of June 7.

Such efforts build upon the $4.5 billion in grid modernization investments provided for in the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act — matched by contributions of more than $5.5 billion from the private sector — to modernize America's aging energy infrastructure and provide cleaner and more reliable power, according to the White House.