Hurricane Irene blew through the East Coast, and power outages were the order of the day. Here on Long Island, where I live, some homes were without power for a week after the storm hit.

A week after the Saturday the storm began, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York made the front page of Long Island’s Newsday with the headline: “Cuomo to Nat Grid, ‘Get the Power on Now.’” A tagline noted “Says failure could lead LIPA to dump company.” Nat Grid, of course, is National Grid, a company based in the U.K. LIPA is the Long Island Power Authority.

The article noted that National Grid is vying with Con Edison of New York City and PSE&G of New Jersey for the $2.3 billion LIPA contract.

“In the long term, I will advise the LIPA trustees to consider this experience and the utility’s past performance responding to major storms,” Cuomo said. “In short, if National Grid hopes to renew its contract, they better get the power on now.”

Earlier in the week, I woke up to my alarm clock radio just in time to hear a WCBS news team interview LIPA chief Michael Hervey. The newscasters were throwing some hard questions at Hervey, knowing that people on Long Island who had been without power for about five days were fuming.

In my half-awake state, I thought I heard Hervey blaming a lack of communications for part of the problem. At least that’s my recollection. Apparently, crews were going out to fix the outages caused by falling trees and were only checking in once or twice a day. Thus, the LIPA people weren’t getting the information they needed to inform an increasingly agitated public.

Are We Thinking About the Smart Grid?

So where do LIPA, National Grid, Con Edison, and PSE&G stand with regards to the Smart Grid? If we were further along the Smart Grid trail, Long Islanders and others might have a better chance of getting their electric service back in a reasonable amount of time. Granted, falling trees cause physical damage to the power lines and aren’t easily fixed. But effective communications should not be a problem with a smarter grid in place.

Searching the LIPA site, I found requests for proposals and the following information in a 2010 final report dated March 31, 2011 at www.lipower.org/pdfs/company/trans/operations-2011.pdf. In the section on the Smart Grid, the report says the Smart Energy Corridor project is a collaborative project between Stony Brook University and Farmingdale State College to create the first Smart Grid on Long Island.

The project would integrate a suite of Smart Grid technologies: smart meters, distribution automation, distributed energy resources, and electric vehicle charging stations. The project will also include testing of cyber security systems, identifying the optimal combination of features to encourage consumer participation, and educating the public about the tools and techniques available with the Smart Grid.

Unfortunately, my town and many others on Long Island are not within the boundary of the Smart Energy Corridor. There’s no indication when this program will roll out to the entire populace of Long Island. But at least it’s a start.

National Grid has a Smart Grid vision posted at www.nationalgridus.com/energy/index.asp. “We are pursuing a regional approach to deploying Smart Grid technology. We also believe that our approach is holistic compared to what other utilities are planning,” the company says.

“First, rather than providing only some elements of a smart grid to our customers, our carefully designed program brings a complete, secure, scalable, ‘end-to-end’ solution that will enable rapid scale-up in the future,” National Grid says. “Second, we are including the deployment of several clean energy technologies, to validate how these technologies will work with the Smart Grid.”

I couldn’t find a timetable for National Grid’s process, nor any indication of what stage the company is currently at. Con Edison has posted a good bit of information about its Smart Grid plans on its Web site at www.coned.com/publicissues/smartgrid.asp. As for PSE&G, there seemed to be a flurry of Smart Grid announcements in 2009, but I didn’t see anything about it in the company’s 2011 sustainability report.