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Article posted: 6/7/2013 5:00 AM

Let's get 'smart grid' up and running

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By Chris Curtis John Estey

Recently, the Illinois General Assembly overturned Gov. Pat Quinn's veto of Senate Bill 9, the bill to advance a modern, reliable electric grid in Illinois. The General Assembly could not have made a better decision when it comes to positioning Illinois as an innovative and forward-looking state, attracting and retaining new talent and businesses and meeting sustainability goals.

The electric grid is not something most people think about -- until the lights go out. But having a reliable and efficient electric grid is critical to everyone. In fact, Illinois residents and businesses lose billions of dollars each year due to outages. Having a smarter grid will dramatically shrink that number, giving a tangible payback to Illinois customers. ComEd's modernization efforts alone are expected to reduce the number of outages by 700,000 per year.

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The "smart grid" is paramount to cementing Illinois' place in the global economy and ensuring it stays competitive. A smarter grid is not only a catalyst for creating jobs and stimulating the economy, but helps to create an environment that attracts the best talent.

The smart grid cannot continue to be regarded as tomorrow's infrastructure, and with this bill we can realize the benefits today. We're in a competitive, 21st century economy and need an electric grid that matches it -- one that can utilize renewables, incorporate the newest technologies and meet growing demand effectively. As energy solutions providers, we know that the smart grid is our business. We know that the knowledge and equipment exists today to implement smart grid technologies -- technologies that provide opportunities for advancement and growth.

This is a great first step, but it is not all that is needed to fully bring about the grid changes needed for Illinois. The General Assembly has put the policy framework in place, but it's up to businesses to take the next step and ensure Illinois fully takes advantage of the benefits. Businesses now must leverage the smart grid by continuing to seek ways to use energy smarter and more efficiently. Technology, automation and other smart applications exist today that enable enhanced energy efficiency, response to demand, and the integration of distributed energy resources such as solar rooftops and electric vehicles.

The smart grid will give ComEd visibility into the performance of the grid, letting them fix any issues faster. Equally important, it will empower business and residential customers with information on how they use energy and allow them to make choices on using it more wisely.

We can't afford to let another day pass without a smarter grid. It's good for Illinois, and it's good for business.

• Chris Curtis is CEO, North America Operations, of Palatine-based Schneider Electric, and John Estey is executive chairman at S&C Electric Co. Inc. in Chicago.

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