The Obama administration seems to have decided to let others share some of the Department of Energy’s glory and let Vice President Joe Biden and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke make the official announcement that DOE is preparing to release funds to develop the “Smart Grid.” Biden and Locke said the DOE is moving to quickly distribute nearly $3.4 billion for grid technology grants and $615 million for grid storage and monitoring.

The duo also announced that some sort of grid summit meeting will be held in nation’s capital around May 19-20. Smartly, it sounds like Energy Secretary Steven Chu will use the meeting to put national media focus on the benefits an advanced energy grid, plus put the squeeze on key private sector groups to unite around a set of standards so that the nation doesn’t end up with a lot of wasted talent going into a Blu-Ray versus HD DVD-type of competition.

According to the DOE, “industry leaders at the meeting will be expected to pledge to harmonize industry standards critical to developing the smart grid, commit to a timetable to reach a standards agreement and abide by the standards devised.”

There is a direct link to the Department of Commerce in this. NIST falls under the department’s purview and NIST has already been given the responsibility to facilitate the creation of grid standards.

Obviously, the idea is to think broadly and relatively far down the technology line so that the next grid generation is fully and easily capable of integrating existing and yet-unthought-of renewable energy sources with the electrical grid, in addition to having mega- and micromanagement features for both industry and consumers.

The $3.375 billion is being paid out under the DOE’s “Smart Grid Investment Grant Program.” The department says it is willing to tailor grant sizes to $500,000 to $20 million for large-scale grid technology items. The $615 million will be doled out in cost-sharing grants of $100,000 to $5 million for grid monitoring, energy storage and regional projects, and the agency is requiring a minimum 50-50 cost share. In either case, the DOE says grant proposals will be weighed using a competitive, merit-based process.

Currently, there isn’t a lot of detail about funding priorities for the large program, however more information is available about DOE’s interests in the smaller pool of funds. According to preliminary grant information, the DOE will be looking at “regionally unique demonstrations to verify smart grid technology viability, quantify smart grid costs and benefits, and validate new smart grid business models, at a scale that can be readily adapted and replicated around the country.” Ultimately, the DOE says it wants the regional projects to “embody essential and salient characteristics of each region and present a suite of use cases for national implementation and replication.”

Funding will be limited to three types of demonstration projects:

•    Regional demonstrations (smart grid costs and benefits, technology viability and new business models);

•    Utility-scale energy storage demonstrations (advanced battery systems, ultracapacitors, flywheels and compressed air energy systems) and congestion relief;

•    Grid monitoring demonstrations (phase measurement units).

Lastly, the DOE says the projects should be collaborations among utility companies, products and services suppliers, end users and state and municipal governments.