In Illinois, a burgeoning smart grid hub

Summary:A new report from Illinois boasts that the state is on track to lead the United States in smart grid infrastructure deployment. Naturally!

Illinois: America's heartland and energy hub?

The Midwestern U.S. state is working hard to convince the rest of the country of just that as it prepares for a massive smart meter rollout that it says will lead to "the most comprehensive smart grid deployment in the U.S.," according to the Illinois Institute of Technology's Mohammad Shahidehpour.

“Illinois has quickly has become a hub for the R&D, manufacturing, development and financing of smart grid and energy projects," Shahidehpour said, adding, "we can use our existing intellectual and human capital to ensure we serve as a model for the rest of the world.”

That's a lot of bragging by any measure, but there is some degree of walk to back the talk. The Illinois Smart Grid Regional Innovation Cluster last week released the “Illinois Smart GridMarket Inventory,” which attempts to draw a line between smart grid instrastructure deployment and economic development, finding that there are 190 energy-related companies and 95 R&D firms in Illinois that could "potentially benefit" from a smart grid.

Highlights from that report:

  • The worldwide smart microgrid market, valued at $4.14 billion in 2010, is projected to grow to $7 billion by 2014. North America is dominant, with almost 74 percent of market share in 2010, mostly owing to institutional and military installations.
  • "There is a demand for a new skillset that bridges the analog-digital divide and incorporates new skills in communications, data management, decision support, and analytics." It's a critical issue, since many power system engineers are facing retirement.
  • An array of grid-related projects are already underway, from Boeing's $10.4 million Chicago demonstration of “a smart, highly automated, secure, and self-healing electric distribution management system" -- which combines smart sensors with integrated communications technologies to allow rerouting of electricity to minimize disruption -- to the work being done by Argonne National Laboratory to test advanced batteries, including lithium-ion batteries for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

But there's no need to convince anybody: the state already passed the Illinois Energy Infrastructure Modernization Act authorizing its two major utilities, ComEd and Ameren, to spend $3.2 billion to update the state’s electricity infrastructure over the next 10 years. (The law also created a $22.5 million investment fund to support companies working on the technology.)

Can Illinois really lead the nation in smart grid tech? It's not far-fetched. As the geographic hub of the Midwest, with close proximity to wind farms and a sizable pool of manufacturing industry workers, the state certainly has much going for it. But the question, as in any other state, is whether it can rapidly align policy, pricing and buildout to minimize pain along the way -- and whether it can set aside its own ego to work with neighboring states to further the region as a whole.

Steal this idea! Illinois takes steps to become a major smart grid hub [Smart Grid News]

Photo: April/Flickr

This post was originally published on

Topics: Innovation


Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. He is also the former editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation. He writes about business, technology and design now but used to cover finance, fashion and culture. He was an intern at Money, Men's Vogue, Popular Mechanics and the New York Daily Ne... Full Bio

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