FCC’s Broadband Plan Sets Groundwork for National Smart Grid To Transition To More Green Energy Use: Electric Cars, Solar Panels

By Matt Cover | March 24, 2010 | 10:11 PM EDT

FCC seal

(CNSNews.com) – The National Broadband Plan, recently published by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), would lay the groundwork for the federal government to establish a nationwide “smart” electrical grid that would change how Americans use and pay for electricity, affecting such things as homes and transportation with battery-powered cars.
The proposal, published March 16, outlines the federal government’s plan to use the nation’s broadband Internet infrastructure to further key national policy goals, including health care, education, and energy.
The intersection of federal energy policy and myriad private sector broadband and wireless Internet networks, which the government hopes to harness, is known as the smart grid, a high-tech linking of the country’s Byzantine electrical infrastructure centered around green energy production and Internet connectivity.
As the plan states, “Broadband and advanced communications infrastructure will play an important role in achieving national goals of energy independence and efficiency."
The proposal explains that to achieve this national goal, the government plans a “massive” build-out of information technology to construct a “smart grid” where government, industry, and individuals can monitor energy production and use in real time, allowing consumers to apparently better control their energy usage and public utilities to apparently better control the production and flow of energy.
“The United States is undertaking a massive communications and information technology buildout to produce the Smart Grid,” the plan says. “The vision is to build a modern grid that enables energy efficiency and the widespread use of both renewable power and plug-in electric vehicles." I.e., electric cars.
The smart grid would work by using the national broadband system the government hopes to create to connect homes and businesses in a two-way system, allowing consumers to monitor their power usage and power companies to manage power generation and demand.
This two-way system would allow consumers to directly control their electricity usage and also allow public utilities to take power from consumers when they are not using it, putting power back onto the grid for others to use.
These changes are needed, the plan says, because the government wants to move toward renewable power sources, which are not as reliable as fossil fuels. This means that utilities must be able to take power from consumers when they are not using it.
“But renewable power can be intermittent; clouds can mask the sun and wind can stop blowing without warning. The country will need greater intelligence in the grid and viable energy-storage solutions in order to meaningfully displace fossil fuel generation,” the plan states.
“Renewable power and distributed generation will also drive the need for greater communication because they will transform the one-way power system into a sophisticated two-way system, where homes, vehicles and buildings sometimes draw power from the grid and sometimes contribute power to it."

Shown is an electric-car charger before at a service station in Elk Horn, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

The vehicles referred to are electric cars and trucks, which are another integral part of the smart grid, acting as giant batteries the utilities can use to siphon electricity that is not being used and redistribute it back onto the public grid.
“[A] smarter grid is necessary if America wants to lead in the shift toward vehivle electrification,” the plan states. “Without a Smart Grid, widespread adoption of electric vehicles would require the construction of many more power plants.”
A smart grid, however, apparently would eliminate the need for additional power plants because it would only allow consumers to charge their cars during “off-peak times.” 
“According to a DOE [Department of Energy] study, the U.S. has enough existing capacity to power 73% of its light-duty vehicle fleet once a smarter grid is in place that can charge vehicles entirely at off-peak times," reads the proposal.
The key to this new system is the broadband-connected smart meter, which the FCC envisions will let utilities and the government monitor energy usage in real-time, and give consumers the ability to better manage their energy consumption.
“Smart meters, which are located at customers’ homes and provide two-way communications with their utility, will play a major role in the Smart Grid,” the plan states.  
Their primary role will be in allowing consumers to better regulate their energy usage, with a catch, however. That catch, the plan says, is a change in how utilities charge customers for energy. 
Rather than the normal flat-rate system, the plan says that utilities will need to move to a dynamic rating system where the price of electricity would spike during times of high demand, such as evening or hot days, forcing consumers to cut their usage to avoid the high prices.
“The price of electricity will also have to better reflect the cost of providing power, which can skyrocket during critically hot days,” the plan says. “Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) technologies [smart meters] combined with time-based pricing tariffs have led to reductions of both peak demand and total energy consumption.” 
“When people see just how expensive electricity is when demand peaks on a hot summer day, they find ways to conserve energy or defer their usage," reads the proposal.
To achieve the goal of a national smart grid the FCC recommends that states begin to draft rules for how utilities, which are state-regulated, use energy data and how they make it available to consumers. If states do not do so, the FCC says, Congress should.
“States should require electric utilities to provide consumers access to, and control of, their own digital energy information, including real-time information from smart meters and historical consumption, price and bill data over the Internet," reads the plan.  "If states fail to develop reasonable policies over the next 18 months, Congress should consider national legislation to cover consumer privacy and the accessibility of energy data.”
So states know what the government means by “reasonable,” the FCC directs the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to “adopt” such standards.
“The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) should adopt consumer digital data accessibility and control standards as a model for states," the plan states.
The FCC admits that such a monumental undertaking carries many risks, and that the federal government cannot foresee every possible problem. Nonetheless, government should continue to pursue its goals, it says, setting rules and regulations to drive the private sector in the desired direction. 
“A national broadband plan in 2010 cannot fully anticipate how Americans will use energy in 2050,” the FCC admits. “The federal government need not know the answer in 2010; rather, it should use a combination of incentives, rules and standards to foster an open marketplace where the best ideas, technologies and entrepreneurs can compete for investment capital and customers.”