There is no denying that energy network upgrades are expensive and time-consuming investments. But the benefits to the community, citizens and the local economy are very real. One example that highlights what those benefits can be is a combination of smart grid projects undertaken by Illinois utilities ComEd and Ameren Illinois.
Six years ago the Illinois General Assembly issued a mandate requiring the two utilities to upgrade the state's aging electric grid. The fast-tracked project began in 2012 and since then ComEd, Ameren and rural electric cooperatives installed switches and sensors that enabled the utilities to re-route power around failed equipment or other damage that would have resulted in an outage. More than three million smart meters were installed and other improvements were made to improve the grid's performance.
The results? In a report filed with the Illinois Commerce Commission in mid-2017, ComEd said improvements completed had prevented 7.6 million outages since the project began and saved Illinois communities a total of $1.4 billion. In addition, the smart grid projects throughout the utility's service area created jobs, enabled expansion of its renewable energy portfolio. The addition of smart meters has given citizens the ability to monitor and adjust their energy use to cut energy costs – and given the utilities the ability to offer incentive pricing programs.
It should also be noted that smart energy projects don't need to be big to be effective. Case in point: the Isles of Scilly, an archipelago off the southwest coast of Britain, has a population of about 2,200. What the inhabited islands in the archipelago lack in size is more than made up for by an ambition to turn a low-carbon, sustainable region with renewables as its energy foundation. In early 2018, a partnership of Isles of Scilly stakeholders and Council Global Lead Partner Hitachi began planning a series of interconnected projects to achieve that goal. Backed by the European Union's European Regional Development Fund, the Smart Islands Partnership projects are intended to cut utility bills by 40%, provide 40% of the region's energy demand with renewable energy and ensure that 40% of vehicles are either low-emissions or electric by 2025.
The technologies involved include greatly expanded rooftop solar installations with power managed by an island-wide energy monitoring platform, electric vehicles, energy storage, smart heating and more.
While the size discrepancy between the Illinois and Isles of Scilly upgrades and the numbers of people they serve are vast, the goal is the same: a reliable, resilient and sustainable energy future.