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Major smart grid project coming to Chicago

By Donna Donnawitz
January 5, 2012
At a press event at the Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore announced plans to upgrade Chicago's utility system with a smart grid setup, the Chicago Tribune reported.

The new project will have a major impact on the city, creating 2,400 jobs, revolutionizing the power infrastructure, creating a foundation for more renewable energy use and bringing in out-of-state contractors, the report said.

According to the news source, the new smart grid investment comes in response to state legislation that will allow ComEd to invest approximately $2.6 billion in new utility infrastructure. By using these resources to develop smart grid systems, the organization will be able to more closely track usage rates and control billing more effectively. This will accompanied by a regulatory shift that will allow ComEd to raise electricity rates and create more revenue.

The new legislation is expected to help the city's utility programs in a broad sense, as it not only encourages ComEd's investments in smart grid, but will also put an emphasis on renewable energy projects and conservation programs around Illinois. The report suggested wind farm investments and rooftop solar cell deployments could also come into play later this year.

ComEd expects to spend half of the $2.6 billion funding the project on new utility poles, cables and other infrastructure that has become dated and needs to be replaced. The rest of the money will go more directly toward smart grid and will include investments in smart meters, automated distribution systems and tools that will allow ComEd customers to better manage their electricity usage patterns, the news source said.

Currently, estimates project that ComEd customers will have to pay approximately $3 per month more than their current bills to gain access to the smart grid infrastructure. While a rate hike is somewhat regrettable, ComEd is confident that smart grid will offer such improved levels of reliability and efficiency that the extra cost will be worth it for residential customers, according to the report.

Smart grid is emerging as a popular utility solution in a diverse range of locations, as many cities increasingly recognize that their utility infrastructure is not only outdated, but becoming to expensive to maintain. Investments in smart grid and the networking systems that support it allows utility companies to offer more reliable and responsive services.

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