President Obama’s vision for economic recovery centers on creating “green collar” jobs through substantial investment in clean technologies. Upon signing his “green stimulus” bill in February, Obama touted a $4.5- billion provision to “create a newer, smarter electric grid that will allow for broader use of alternative energy.”1 Despite the clear benefits of giving the electricity grid its first major upgrade since the 1950s, few proponents have addressed the obvious questions: Why did the nation’s infrastructure grow so obsolete, and are we setting the stage for another six decades of stagnation?
Unlike other technology investments in the administration’s $787-billion stimulus package, such as next generation broadband, nothing about smart grids is particularly “futuristic.” Making the electricity grid “smart” means merely creating the same experience already expected for nearly every piece of consumer technology in modern society. When users browse the Internet, for example, they expect to view the pages they request, only when they request them. When mobile customers make a call, they can instantaneously check how many minutes they’ve used, and how many they have left.