By Sara Hochman, Managing Director, Energy Foundry and Jason Blumberg, CEO and Managing Director, Energy Foundry

The overall concept of a “smart grid” means bringing the electricity grid (and its century-old design) into the digital age. To create a “smart grid,” electric utilities are introducing two-way communication technology and electronic systems into their infrastructure. This technology will make the grid more efficient to operate and transmit information, which will in turn improve the reliability, economics, and sustainability of the production and distribution of electricity.

Using digital capabilities and modern equipment, a smart grid can integrate and respond to the needs and actions of all users connected to it through enhanced demand response capacity. From electricity generators to the delivery channels like the power lines outside your home, an intelligent grid can detect, isolate, and (if necessary) repair key issues remotely.

The smart grid is also more efficient and flexible; it is capable of meeting increased power demands without adding unnecessary or costly infrastructure. It can accept energy from alternative generation sources, including solar and wind, and is capable of integrating new technologies (like advanced energy storage) as they become market proven.

In addition, the intelligent grid will create market opportunities. In Illinois, the passage of the Energy Infrastructure Modernization Act set the stage for a multi-billion-dollar investment in modernizing the state’s infrastructure that is creating a critical mass around smart grid innovation and economic development. The state will build on the region’s core competencies in research and development, manufacturing, and, increasingly, in entrepreneurship.

The legislation also created Energy Foundry to further catalyze the smart grid ecosystem. Energy Foundry is an impact venture capital fund dedicated to supporting “game changing” grid and energy ideas. With the right combination of early-stage investment capital, strategic relationships, and technical resources, Energy Foundry is dedicated to launching new companies and commercializing innovative grid- and grid-enabling technology. In partnership with utilities, universities, and corporate partners, Energy Foundry also provides access to one-of-a-kind testing and validation platforms.

Add to that the Illinois Smart Grid Regional Innovation Cluster (ISGRIC), a cluster-based economic development program funded by the SBA, supported by Clean Energy Trust, Illinois Institute of Technology, O-H Community Partners and Energy Foundry, which supports more than two dozen startup smart grid companies. Companies have unprecedented access to smart grid test beds where they can test and showcase new technologies in an open, utility-scale environment at on-grid locations. Related projects such as the Korea-Illinois Smart Buildings Initiative (KISBI) and the Oak Park Smart City USA Project are already leveraging Illinois’ test beds to attract foreign investment and spur economic activity.

In short, Illinois’ growing energy ecosystem is uniquely positioned to become a leader in smart grid innovation.


Did You Know?

Source: FERC, Assessment of Demand Response & Advanced Metering Staff Report, 2012

By providing real time data on energy supply and consumption smart grid technologies improve the capacity of costumers and producers to communicate with one another. This allows for enhanced demand response programs that can save consumers money and even allow them to sell some of their stored energy back on the market. The more energy that can be shaved off peak demand, the greater the potential for reducing emissions, lowering the cost of energy and augmenting arbitrage opportunities. Illinois has one of the largest peak reduction potentials in the nation, making it especially well positioned to benefit from a fully developed smart grid.

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