Miami Bids For 'Smart Grid' Money

Last week, the Obama administration announced guidelines to receive $4 billion in stimulus money to develop a new generation electric grid. On Monday General Electric, Florida Power and Light and the city of Miami announced their bid.

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It's being called as revolutionary as the Internet. Smart grid is the name given to a collection of new technologies that will revamp the way electricity is generated, distributed and used by consumers. In Miami today, three top American corporations announced that for the first time they're bringing smart grid technology to an entire region. NPR's Greg Allen reports.

GREG ALLEN: It's an initiative called Energy Smart Miami. Florida Power and Light - FPL - a utility that serves more than four million customers in South Florida, has partnered with GE and digital networking specialist Cisco System to roll out what's expected to be the nation's first full-scale use of smart grid technology. Over the next two years, FPL CEO Lew Hay says the company will spend $200 million installing more than a million digital smart meters on every home and business in Miami-Dade County. Hay says the devices will give customers a daily, even hourly, readout of their daily consumption.

Mr. LEW HAY (CEO, Florida Power and Light): When you wake up in the morning, your home energy display will tell you exactly how much power you used the day before and how you can use your power in a most efficient way for the day. Your smart appliances and thermostat will automatically interact with the grid to reduce energy usage in accord with your lifestyle.

ALLEN: Smart grid technology is already in use around the country. In Boulder, Excel Energy, another industry leader, has about 15,000 smart meters installed. What makes Energy Smart Miami different is that it's not a pilot project, but the transition of an entire region to a new technology for distributing and using electricity. GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt said the technology is ready and the need for jobs is now.

Mr. JEFFREY IMMELT (CEO, General Electric): There's no reason to wait. These are the types of projects that this country should be doing. It's a great intersection between the need to create an economic stimulus and solve one of the world's greatest problems, which is affordable, clean energy.

ALLEN: Immelt and FPL chief Hay say a key part of their decision to go ahead with a full-fledged smart grid rollout was government leadership. Last week, the Obama administration announced more than $4 billion in funding available for smart grid projects. FPL in Miami already have the backing of a key Obama official: Carol Browner, the administration's point person on energy and climate change. Over the past year, enthusiasm over developing smart grid technology has swept through corporate America, involving energy, telecom, software and nearly every high-tech company in the nation. Bracken Hendricks, with the Center for American Progress, says what was missing was government leadership on the issue.

Mr. BRACKEN HENDRICKS (Center for American Progress): The private sector is ready to invest, but they wanted to know that there was going to be a secure policy environment to make these large capital investments and to know that was a commitment over the long haul to really - seeing this transition through.

ALLEN: One of the key people behind the Miami project is the CEO of Cisco Systems, John Chambers. FPL boss Hay credited Chambers with providing the vision that led directly to the partnership. In a phone interview, Chambers said he's seen this kind of enthusiasm, investment and energy before, around an earlier emerging network, the Internet.

Mr. JOHN CHAMBERS (CEO, Cisco Systems): When you first built the Internet it was just used primarily by the defense organization to - by universities. Once you put the structure in place, it suddenly opened up the mind of business and consumer - what could be done.

ALLEN: A key part of the business model for Miami's smart grid calls for open architecture, allowing other companies to develop applications and ideas that aren't even envisioned yet. But will consumers use it? Will an instant read-out of the energy profile lead them to reduce consumption? Chambers says, yes.

Mr. CHAMBERS: Initial resistance is very common. Then I think once you begin to see it, your family and friends are doing it, then you begin to roll it out. Then it can really scale and replicate across our country.

ALLEN: In Miami, rollout of the smart grid is expected to create about a thousand jobs. Chambers says that's just the beginning. He expects smart grid technology to generate hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country directly, and many more as the technology creates other business opportunities.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

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