The Obama Administration announced that $3.4 billion in smart-grid investment grants — made available by the Department of Energy (DOE) as part of the economic stimulus package — will be allocated to 100 projects. The $3.4 billion will be matched by $4.7 billion in private spending, bringing the total amount of smart-grid spending from the grant to $8.1 billion, said Cynthia Brumfield, director of research for the United Telecom Council (UTC).

"[The funding] will help overhaul the U.S. electric grid and move us more towards energy independence and efficiency in the long run and that is a massive shift in our economy and way of life," Brumfield said. "I think it is going to be huge and a lot of the job creation — which is ultimately the intent of the stimulus money — we'll see on the manufacturing, vendor and supply side of the business.

The funding will go to projects in 49 states (see PDF of state-by-state awards and map), with the DOE planning to disburse the funds within the next 60 days. The bulk of the awards involve the deployment of smart meters, including projects that will install 18 million new advanced meters — representing 13% of U.S. homes.

The influx of multi-billion dollar grants into the smart grid's development will move the grid from the theoretical to the realized, Brumfield said.

"The smart grid today is in the state of evolution that let's say the Internet was in the 1990s," she said. "To some extent it's unrealized at this point … but that doesn't mean it isn't going to evolve into a communications platform for energy efficiencies and ultimately a dynamic form of communications."

Spectrum allocation has been a topic the UTC has lobbied for in the past. As such, communication infrastructure for utilities needs to be adequately supported by federal policies, Brumfield said.

"We are very much in favor and have long advocated for utilities to have greater access to spectrum so they can deploy these kinds of communication technologies that makes things run a lot better," she said. "We still maintain … that utilities need more infrastructure and access to wireless spectrum to make the smart grid a reality."

Show me the money

In announcing, the administration broke down the funding amounts according to the following policy goals:

  • $2 billion - Integrating and Crosscutting Across Different "Smart" Components of a Smart Grid
  • $1 billion - Empowering Consumers to Save Energy and Cut Utility Bills
  • $400 million - Making Electricity Distribution and Transmission More Efficient
  • $25 million - Building a Smart Grid Manufacturing Industry