Energy Secretary Steven Chu has said for several months that his department would focus much of its attention on refurbishing, and at times rebuilding, the outmoded American electrical system. This is necessary in order to guarantee energy security and to incorporate new technologies such as wind and solar energy.
Before the Energy Department can start instituting major changes such as linking new power generation facilities to the grid, it must overhaul the grid itself.
On August 6th Duke Energy sought up to $200 million in federal infrastructure funding to replace existing grids with "smart grids" in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky. The company has also applied for $14 million in funding for similar projects in North and South Carolina.
Duke Energy's first step, as reported by The Wall Street Journal Online, is to roll out "smart meters" which cut back on wasted energy and save perhaps millions of dollars annually. The company hopes to distribute over 700,000 of these meters in Ohio alone.
In order to put this plan in motion, the companies will need to hire and pay workers, thus providing the kind of "green economy" stimulus which the President and Secretary Chu have been searching for.
Labor Secretary Hilda Solis told the Associated Press on August 10th that she expects the green sector to be on the cutting edge of job creation. With manufacturing still in decline and total unemployment on the rise this sector is being counted on to boost the economy.
The Obama administration announced last week that it would organize $2.4 billion in federal grants for developments in electric vehicles and batteries. The hope is that it would boost research and development for sustainable jobs in the future. All of this is part of Washington's plan to save Detroit, but it may be better served by organizing some partnerships with existing electric manufacturer Tesla Motors.
The United States is facing an uncertain energy future. The only thing we can be sure of is that our current technology - coal and oil - is hazardous, destructive, and expensive.
Revamping our electrical grid would be the first step toward replacing coal plants with clean solar and wind production. It would allow higher electrical capacity for charging fleets of all-electric vehicles. And, most importantly, it would create a new home-grown industry with stable and permanent employment for millions of Americans.