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Smart grid? No, smart cities

Earlier this month, the Economist discussed the subject of electric cars, making the point that policy has to change if they are to become a successful avenue toward cleaner cars. Beyond regulating vehicle emissions, government also has to develop the electricity grid to accommodate the new vehicles.

The United States still does not have a clear policy towards the modernization of the electricity grid, despite all the hoopla around the “smart grid” since the passage of the stimulus package. The reality is that electricity transmission and distribution systems remain highly fragmented and regionalized, supported by various owners, regulators, and operators. The federal government and the states remain mired in debates about the siting and cost allocation of high-priority national transmission lines.

While the United States dawdles over whether to build only “green electron” transmission lines and the full scale implementation of pilot “smart” metering projects, Europe is moving closer to real results. The European Union plans to experiment with the modernization of the electricity grid in 30 select cities. By going full scale in a community, the Europeans can better understand the impact of this change on the economic and population centers. After all, the whole purpose of changing the grid is not to get more wires, but more productive economies.