This post is part of an ongoing series called “Detroit’s Re-Invention: Lessons from Other Cities.” See all posts in this feature here.
OK. I will concede I am no guru when it comes to electricity or really anything related to electrical engineering. After all, the “door ajar” light on my dashboard has been lit for some three years because of a short circuit of some kind. The mechanic wants like $500 to fix it, and lord knows I’ll be toast if I try to fix it myself. I am happy to stick with DIY projects not involving a crircuit board. The light remains illuminated.
BUT. Here’s some thoughts on electricity. Read this. It’s a diagram outlining the benefits of implementing a smart grid in the state of West Virginia. A smart grid? What the hell? I asked the same question. This document helped. In a nutshell, a smart grid overlays the electricity distribution grid that most American cities currently have with two-way digital technology that more efficiently manages energy usage, therefore reducing costs and increasing the reliability of power. Within the smart grid, digital sensors and control devices are introduced in the system to control the transmission of power much more efficiently. For example, with the use of a smart grid, appliances can be controlled more intelligently through the grid as opposed to being manually controlled by the user which often leads to waste. Clouds are blocking the sun on a Tuesday while you are at work? Appliances (like your A/C or hot water heater) on a smart grid will be adjusted accordingly to conserve resources (and ultimately cost less for the consumer). Currently, Italy is the only country in the world with a full-scale Smart Grid in place that was installed in 2005. Right now, they are seeing savings of roughly 500 million Euros per year. The project cost 2.1 Billion Euros. You can do the math and see that while there is a large cost to install such a system, the annual realized savings warrants it. After four years, the project is mostly paid off.
In the US, ten cities have at least started or initiated the process of rolling out smart grid technology— and in most cases, there was federal money (stimulus and otherwise) involved to help. Boulder, CO is probably our country’s flagship example of a functional smart grid.
So, here’s an idea, Detroit. Based on that diagram from GOOD magazine that looks at implementation in West Virginia, we could create a hell of a lot of jobs on the homefront using some of our idle manufacturing capacity to start making smart meters and then employ people in aiding with the rollout of the new technology. Not only that, but with the Department of Energy in Washington supporting initiatives like this, we could probably get some financial help to do it all. In the end, by using the West Virginia example as our model and installing a smart grid, the economic impact means jobs are created, emissions are reduced to give it some environmental incentive, power quality and reliability is increased and we rely less on foreign oil. The estimated total cost savings of all this goodness? $12.6 Billion. At a cost of roughly $2 billion, that’s about as attractive a return on investment any tycoon could desire. It’s time to get moving, Detroit.