What can you get for a few billion dollars? A futile attempt to find results of smart grid stimulus funding.

I visited the federal government’s SmartGrid Web site today for the hundredth time to see if I could figure out what we’ve done with the $4.5 billion in stimulus funds the Department of Energy (DOE) has been giving out for the last two years. Nothing but a message saying results would be posted starting late 2011. Digging pretty deep into the Web site you can find some charts about which technologies have been installed to date, but nothing about what the stimulus was really supposed to do—create jobs.

Back when the Recovery Act was originally discussed—when the bottom fell out of the economy—I was with the GridWise Alliance and thought the most important thing we could do was analyze the potential for smart grid jobs given major federal investment. KEMA, a respected energy consultant, did a study that indicated with a $64 billion investment, we could create 280,000 jobs across multiple sectors having to do with the electric grid. These jobs included direct utility jobs (accounting for those lost through reduced need for meter readers), contractors, direct and indirect utility suppliers, and new utility jobs. The predictions were compelling, enough so that Congress saw fit to dedicate $4.5 billion for smart grid to a program that had historic annual funding of about $130 million. That office flew into action and starting giving out the funds for deployment, demonstration, education, you name it. You just can’t read about it.

Unfortunately, most utilities are no better at touting their accomplishments, especially in a way that makes sense to policymakers. They talk about how many meters they have installed (even if citizens of California are lying down in front of the trucks to stop the rollouts because of spectacularly poor consumer education on the part of the utilities) and how great the equipment will be for utility operations. You hear a great deal of hand-wringing by consumer advocates when regulators approve a project and a great deal of hand-wringing by utilities when they don’t. What no one is doing is TELLING THE STORY.

There are stories out there of real economic recovery and job creation thanks to this federal investment. Of real energy savings because of consumer and system efficiency. Of real spurring of renewable energy development both on the grid and on rooftops. Of the development of a whole new class of vehicles—electric—that rely on smart grid. Of enormous investment of private capital in energy innovation. Of real jobs and real people, and a brighter future for our children who want to be engineers and planners and psychologists studying human behavior.

But don’t ask the federal government to talk about what they have done. The GOP would love nothing better than to find a reason to shutter the doors of DOE; for the sake of all the good they have actually promulgated, let’s hope DOE finds their voice. And some data to back it up.

About cleangridview
Smart grid and clean tech policy expert with nearly 30 years of experience with utilities, government, non-profits, and the private sector.

One Response to What can you get for a few billion dollars? A futile attempt to find results of smart grid stimulus funding.

  1. Craig says:

    Great post. If there are stories of real economic recovery and job creation thanks to federal investment, perhaps blogger nation should hurry up and generate a report about it. Not just for the sake of the DOE but also for the sake everyone who will be affected by the results of the election in November. Count me in as a willing contributor to such an effort.

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