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Transformation: Making the electric grid smart
When a violent windstorm struck the Chicago area in July 2011, it left a lot of destruction in its wake – and 904,000 ComEd customers without power. The energy company struggled to respond effectively.
“It was a wakeup call for both us and decisionmakers that something very significant had to change,” said Sheila Owens, vice president of economic and business development at ComEd.
The storm and its aftermath set in motion an effort to build support for upgrading the electric grid for northern Illinois and Chicago.
“The effort was not just to change the law or to change the relationship,” said Tom O’Neill, senior vice president and general counsel of ComEd parent company Exelon. “We had to change the mindset of how people saw the utility.”
Three months after the storm, Illinois passed the Smart Grid Law, which enabled the company to make needed investments to strengthen and modernize the grid. It included technology that would meaningfully improve service reliability and bring the grid into the 21st Century.
“Making the smart grid ‘smart’ through automation has really resulted in significant improvement in reliability and fewer customer outages,” said Michelle Blaise, senior vice president of technical services for ComEd.
Delivering on the smart grid promise took an extraordinary act of collaboration – not only across by the more than 6,000 employees across the company, but with public officials, and community leaders.
“We had some issues [in] one of our subdivisions, where they were losing power constantly,” said West Chicago Mayor Ruben Pineda. “Now…through the community, we’re about 99.9 percent without problems, and the few problems that we have, have been…very brief – a blip.”
The six-year smart grid program also gave the local economy a much-needed boost in the form of new jobs creation and investment.
“ComEd has helped United Scrap Metal transform our company from 20 employees to over 400 team members,” said Marsha Serlin, founder and CEO of United Scrap Metal.
See ComEd’s smart grid transformation by watching the video above.