Rural smart grid is a big bucket

Wednesday - 6/15/2011, 9:31am EDT

Jessica Zufolo, Deputy Administrator, Rural Utilities Service, USDA

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By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio.com

The nation's electric grid is being upgraded and modernized. Soon, everyone will be on the so-called Smart Grid, including people in rural areas.

Farms and ranches may not be the first places you think of when thinking about the future of the hi-tech world of the smart grid, but the USDA's Jessica Zufolo told Federal News Radio supporting the smart grid is just a continuation of what the department's always done.

"Rural electric cooperatives and rural electric systems have been upgrading and hardening for many years. And so it's really about what the customer wants and meeting that level of customer demand," said the Deputy Administrator of USDA's Rural Utilities Service (RUS).

Customers, said Zufolo, want energy efficiency and more reliable. cost-effective power. "The agency's all-focused on meeting the demand of customers and rural businesses. Those businesses that are farm-based, ranchland communities that have the ability to harness the renewable energy resources in their community whether it be wind, solar, geothermal, hydro, and biomass."

This week, the USDA announced $250 million would be made available in the form of low-interest loans to bring the smart grid to remote locations.

The goal, said Zufolo, is to invest in, and modernize the existing infrastructure "so that customers, rural residents and businesses get affordable and extraordinarily reliable power," with fewer blackouts, and the ability to monitor usage and save money.

But there are no hard and fast requirements, she said, since the term "smart grid" is "just a term of art to describe the movement towards a more modernized, hardened, reliable electric grid that involves 2-way communications as well as meters. So it's a big bucket and we've been doing it for years."