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ComEd Creates 'Smart Grid Innovation' Corridor Near Chicago

Commonwealth Edison Co. (ComEd) has launched a concentrated hub of smart grid pilot projects in a bid to put to the test a range of technologies, such as rooftop solar and electric vehicle charging stations.

The company, a subsidiary of utility giant Exelon, launched what it is calling a "Smart Grid Innovation Corridor" in 10 Northern Illinois communities where there are already smart meters installed in 130,000 homes. Five pilot tests will take place in the corridor, using the smart meter technology as the foundation.

"Our innovation corridor is unlike any in the U.S.," Anne Pramaggiore, ComEd's president and chief operating officer, said in a statement Wednesday. "It allows us to study a variety of advanced Smart Grid technologies individually and in relation to each other. Through this deliberate approach, we will learn the best and most cost-effective way to deliver value to our customers, help them manage their bills, and improve system reliability."

The news comes the same week as Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced that two million smart grid meters have been installed across the U.S., driven in part by funding from the Recovery Act.

A $5 million grant from the Department of Energy will partially fund one of the five smart grid pilot programs announced by ComEd Wednesday. The three-year photovoltaic pilot is expected to begin next spring, for which ComEd will recruit 100 owners of single-family homes to participate.

Homeowners will receive free rooftop solar panels and installation, with the resulting electricity generation and consumption to be monitored by the utility to examine the customer benefits, hourly pricing signals, impact on customer load, and how well participants are able to sell back unused solar electricity.

ComEd will also launch its first intelligent substation as part of another pilot test. An existing Oak Park substation is being equipped with microprocessor-based controls and advanced digital devices that will go online in December. The substation's automated monitoring and analysis capabilities are to be designed to improve reliability and maintenance.

A third pilot program will see smart-charging infrastructure installed throughout the Chicago area for an electric vehicle pilot program. Partnering on the project will be General Motors, the Electric Power Research Institute and the city of Chicago. The Chevy Volt from General Motors will be tested in the program beginning in 2011.

The remaining pilot programs will focus on self-correcting power lines and reducing surprise voltage on distribution lines. Both will go into effect in December.

The Smart Grid Innovation Corridor includes Bellwood, Berwyn, Broadview, Forest Park, Hillside, Melrose Park, Oak Park, River Forest and Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood.

Image CC licensed by Flickr user Tom Raftery.

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