Two international environmental news outlets, grist.org and thinkprogress.org have both featured Oak Park's unique Smart Grid Initiative recently. Oak Park was chosen from over 100 applicants to participate in the initiative, a partnership between the Korean Smart Grid Institute of the Village of Oak Park.
In the program, 200 homes will be outfitted with smart grid technology that will usually include small solar systems to produce electricity, batteries to store it, and sophisticated two-way communication with the grid. It also would make it possible for the home to feed energy into the grid, and the homeowner would be paid for it – the meter could be running backwards! Or, your house could run from the battery at night, when demand is low, and not pay for electricity at that time.
None of the expense of the program (an estimated $6 million) will be paid by taxpayers. The Korean group is paying half; Oak Park is working with the International Institute for Sustainable Design to secure funding for the rest. The homes in the study will all be volunteers. KC Poulos, the Village's sustainability manager, says she has already received hundreds of phone calls from people who want to participate. She advises them to subscribe to the Village's enewsletter – that's where information will come out when it's time to apply.
The experiment should produce a local grid that is much more adaptable and resilient in the face of extreme weather and other disasters. “This is about climate adaptation too – we’re not just looking at consumer benefits.” Poulos said in her interview with Grist. “You want the most resilient local grid system you can get. As temperatures rise, the accumulative effects just keep getting worse and worse. It’s going to keep on coming and we are going to be left holding the bag if we don’t have a system that’s redundant, self-healing, and monitorable.
In the long run, this program can be seen as a pilot for revolutionizing the entire national electric grid. “Smart grid investment and infrastructure have the potential to provide even more savings and even more efficiency for business owners and residents beyond what you can do in your own building in terms of smart appliances and energy management and putting renewable energy on the building. Having a whole smart grid infrastructure is just like what we went through in terms of changing form landlines to cell phones. Think of all the things we do now with our phones that were not even conceivable in the 1970's.”