White House official: Power grid upgrades needed to mitigate extreme weather

Holdren said “smart grid" devices would provide the necessary resiliency to withstand major storms.

"Smart grid" devices include a range of widgets and services that communicate with each other and electric utilities through the Internet, rather than proprietary networks erected by utilities.

The technology’s central node is the smart electric meter, which gives consumers real-time electricity information with the intent of encouraging energy conservation.

In terms of mitigating blackouts, those meters allow utilities to remotely locate the source of outages and restore power through the Internet.

A National Science and Technology Council progress report released Tuesday said roughly 10.8 million smart electric meters have been installed since Obama took office. The report said deployment would hit 15.5 million meters by 2015.

The report noted that Chattanooga, Tenn., utility EPB concluded smart grid investments halved its outages and slashed power-loss duration by 55 percent during a June 2012 storm that shut off the lights for millions of East Coast residents.

“EPB of Chattanooga calculates that the expedited restoration saved the utility $1.4 million, which does not include savings from a broader community perspective,” the report said.

Holdren said the $4.5 billion awarded to firms and utilities through the 2009 federal stimulus has been instrumental for jump starting the smart grid industry.

The National Science and Technology Council report noted those funds also helped install hundreds of advanced grid sensors that will reduce outages caused by system stress.

Those trackers are placed on the transmission system, which carries bulk loads of power across the country to electrical substations. Those substations then send power to utilities, which distributes electricity to consumers.

“Collectively, these sensors will allow grid operators to track, in real-time, nearly 100 percent of the grid system,” the report said.