Networking the Green Economy: How Broadband and Related Technologies Can Build a Green Economic Future

Deploying broadband and related communication technologies, including smart meters in the home and smart grids to upgrade our power grid, have the potential of revolutionizing energy management and economic development, according to a new report by the Progressive States Network released in association with our partners, Communications Workers of America, the Sierra Club and the Blue Green Alliance. Last Thursday, leaders from those organizations convened at a panel on Capitol Hill, hosted by U.S. Representative Edward Markey, Chairman of the U.S. House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, and joined by Nick Sinai, Director of Energy and Environment for the FCC's Broadband Strategy Plan, to discuss the findings of the report entitled: 

Networking the Green Economy: How Broadband & Related Technologies Can Build a Green Economic Future



"This report highlights a historic partnership between labor, technology and environmental groups needed to stop climate change and expand broadband access for all Americans"
- Congressman Ed. Markey

PSN's Executive Director Nathan Newman was joined on the panel by Executive Director of the Blue Green Alliance David Foster, Sierra Club President Allison Chin, and Communications Workers of America Vice President Annie Hill.  As Congressman Markey noted during his speech, this report heralds a new alliance of labor, technology and environmental groups in a "historic partnership" to take the next steps needed to stop climate change, expand broadband access for all Americans, and build towards energy independence for the nation.  

The key conclusion of both the report and the panel was that investing in broadband and communication technologies cannot be seen as a distinct goal from the construction of a green economy.  By the same token, failure to address the digital divide could result in the exclusion of poor and rural communities from the green economy as well.  It is imperative that the environmental, technology, and labor communities work together in the construction of a smart economy since an additional $50 billion investment in the smart grid over the next five years would create or retain an average of 239,000 new jobs for each five years.

This Dispatch will outline some other critical findings of the report, including:

  • Upgrading the Grid: Information Communication Technologies is Key to More Efficient Coordination of Energy Supplies and Distribution
  • Smart Technologies to Reduce Energy Demand in the Home and Office
  • Broadband Applications to Reduce Travel and Fuel Costs

It will also highlight the pathway to networking the green economy, including the need to protect consumers and workers during the transition, the need for a plan that promotes deployment and adoption of broadband by all households, and the immediate policies states can begin to implement to move towards that future.

To download a copy of the report or the executive summary, please visit

Progressive States Network, Blue Green Alliance, Communications Workers of America and Sierra Club - Networking the Green Economy: How Broadband and Related Technologies can Build a Green Economic Future
Information Technology and Innovation Foundation - The Digital Road to Recovery: A Stimulus Plan to Create Jobs, Boost Productivity and Revitalize America

Table of Contents

- Upgrading the Grid: Information Communication Technologies Are Key to More Efficient Coordination of Energy Supplies and Distribution

- Smart Technologies that Reduce Energy Demand in the Home and Office

- Broadband Applications to Reduce Travel and Fuel Costs

- The Pathway to Networking the Green Economy

- Conclusion: States Moving Forward on Networking the Green Economy

Upgrading the Grid: Information Communication Technologies Are Key to More Efficient Coordination of Energy Supplies and Distribution

"Realizing the full potential and benefits of investments in efficiency and renewables will ... require a significant upgrade in our communications and transmission infrastructure"
- Allison Chin, President of the Sierra Club President

Our present power grid, using outdated technologies, wastes massive amounts of energy during the transmission and distribution of electricity.  

The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) estimates that power system disturbances cost 50 cents for every dollar spent for electricity, and that the smart grid has the potential to reduce this cost by 50 percent or more.  States can no longer afford the estimated $80 billion and $150 billion costs that power outages incur annually.  Energy savings equivalent to eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from 53 million cars could be achieved by improving the efficiency of the grid by just 5 percent and smart grid technologies could stop the power outages that cost the U.S. economy $49 billion per year

Upgrading the electricity grid will produce more efficient energy, reduce greenhouse emissions, save costs to producers and consumers, as well as create sustainable jobs.  

Managing a Better Distribution of Electricity:  Integrating networked communications into the transmission system will help create a grid capable of better response time to large-scale and isolated-system failures, moving energy efficiently over long distances and addressing congestion issues.  Increasing grid efficiency through re-automation and self-healing capabilities results in reduced energy generation and use.  Power generation could be decreased by 3 to 5 percent by installing a smart grid capable of delivering only necessary electricity.  Along with better building design, management and automation, the smart grid could save $20 to 25 billion in energy use.  According to a study, consumers in the eastern United States pay $16.5 billion per year in higher electricity prices due to transmission congestion, a problem that would be largely resolved by an upgraded smart grid.  


'The jobs of the future should all be good, green jobs, and by taking action now on broadband and other technologies, we are putting ourselves in a position to create jobs and lead the world in the race for a clean energy economy."
- David Foster, Executive Director of the BlueGreen Alliance

Communications technology is essential to the functionality of the smart grid because it gathers the vast data generated by energy use and transforms this data into information for the consumer and the utility company.  As such, the communication that is transmitted must be pervasive, rapid, scalable, secure, and robust at all times, especially during emergency situations. 

Integration of Renewable Energy Resources During the Transmission of Electricity:  Many renewable energy sources - such as wind, solar, and geothermal - are in isolated areas throughout the United States and are unable to connect effectively with our current  power grid.  A Department of Energy report found that it could be possible for 20 percent of the nation’s electricity demand to be met by wind sources in 2030 should these sources be all connected with a smart grid.  Curently, one issue hindering wind energy is that a portion of these wind farms are located in remote areas, far from major centers of electricity demand. 

By implementing advanced digital controls and technologies such as syncrophasors — precise grid measurements that indicate grid stress — throughout the transmission system, transmission operators will be able to use long-distance, high-voltage transmission lines to move energy from renewable energy source sites to distant distribution grids located at primary-use locations with far less energy loss than is currently possible. 

In facilitating the integration of renewable energy resources into our energy distribution system, we can curtail the negative environmental side effects of our energy use.  Smart grid improvements should be sequenced so that high-carbon resources are phased out as quickly as possible and replaced with a combination of lower carbon, renewable fuels.  By enabling smart grid distribution, the United States can cut carbon dioxide emissions by 25 percent.  On the demand side, the Department of Energy has maintained, there are numerous environmental benefits that take place when we reduce the emissions of generation plants during peak periods.

GetSmartGrid.Org -Smart Grid Facts
The Climate Group - SMART2020: Enabling the low carbon economy in the information age
United States Department of Energy - Benefits of Demand Response in Electricity Market and Recommendations for Achieving Them
Joint System Coordination Plan 2008
The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners - The Smart Grid: Frequently Asked Questions for State Commission

Smart Technologies that Reduce Energy Demand in the Home and Office

FCC Energy and Environment Director, Nick Sinai, who highlighted that consumers should be given "access and control of their digital energy information." 

Since buildings in the United States account for approximately 39 percent of the nation’s total energy use, 72 percent of the electricity consumption and 38 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, smart technologies in the home are key to a greener future.  By transforming the way people and businesses use technology, the United States can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by an estimated 13 to 22 percent by 2020 — and potentially see gross energy and fuel savings of $140-240 billion.  

Smart meters and dynamic pricing could give consumers the ability to track their own power usage and then provide a financial incentive to alter their energy consumption either by shifting away from periods of peak demand, purchasing more environmentally friendly and energy efficient appliances, or simply decreasing overall energy usage.  As highlighted by FCC Energy and Environment Director Nick Sinai, consumers should be given "access and control of their digital energy information." 

Smart Meters and Net Metering:  With the right type of consumer protection and technological metrics in place, smart meters can help individuals purchase energy more efficiently.  If built to connect in real time with a utility and smart grid through high-speed broadband, networked homes and offices can provide large economic and environmental pay-offs.  Pilot programs and studies have demonstrated that consumers who track their energy use in real time and consequently make simple behavioral changes can save 5 to 15 percent on their electricity consumption, which amount to savings of $60 to $180 per year.  Dynamic pricing to shift demand can also lead to a more reliable grid and reduce the risk of outages that are often costly to the economy. 

A smart grid that extends its communications network to homes and buildings can turn these traditionally large energy users into potential energy producers.  Such a grid could allow energy consumers to sell solar-based and other renewable energy back to the power grid, making such investments more economical and further decreasing the dependence on fossil fuel based power plants.  For example, a home could be powered by its own solar energy during the day and then the consumer could sell any extra energy produced back to the larger grid, an option called “net metering." 

Smart Buildings and Networked Homes:  Further, allowing various building systems, including appliances, heating and cooling systems, to communicate and interact with each other through smart technologies will also reduce energy use and buildings’ negative impact on the environment.

The incorporation of networked technology into buildings can optimize their energy consumption by controlling multiple devices, improving the ability to monitor buildings, giving building owners and occupants more information about and control over their energy use, and integrating that use into the new smart grid.  By using specialized software and broadband, smart buildings can make their own efficient energy use decisions.  For instance, a smart building could potentially adjust the amount of indoor light being used based on the amount of sunlight coming through a window.  

The Center of American Progress estimates that integrating smart technology into new construction or in the renovation of existing buildings can make them more environmentally friendly, saving the U.S. $20-25 billion and reducing carbon dioxide emissions between 130-190MMT. 

Using Broadband Protocols: To facilitate networking of homes and avoid their obsolescence, meters should incorporate high-bandwidth technology using Internet protocols and an open architecture.  As the New York Public Service Commission argued in a recent order governing smart meters, smart meter systems "must be designed to meet future requirements of the smart grid." 

United States Department of Energy - The Smart Grid: An Introduction
The Climate Group - SMART2020: Enabling the low carbon economy in the information age
Pew Internet & American Life Project - Home Broadband Adoption 2009
U.S. Green Building Council - Green Building Research
Center for American Progress - It’s Easy Being Green: Smart Buildings for Future Skylines
State of New York Public Service Commission - Order Adopting Minimum Functional Requirements for Advanced Metering Infrastructure Systems and Initiating an Inquiry into the Benefit-Cost Methodologies

Broadband Applications to Reduce Travel and Fuel Costs

"The promise of the smart grid and fast broadband are applications, from telehealth to e-commerce, that will radically reduce energy costs by reducing both the need to travel and transport physical goods." - Nathan Newman, Executive Director of Progressive States Network

In addition to savings costs for homes and businesses, smart technologies provide a wide array of benefits for entrepreneurs, consumers, and workers. Congressman Markey stressed that information can be added to our home heaters, electricity suppliers, and vehicles. This Dispatch highlights a few of the smart technology applications that can be added to our work and life essentials:  

Telehealth: Increased adoption of broadband technology and telehealth practices could decrease travel by allowing doctors to monitor and consult with patients remotely.  

A Veterans Administration study reported a 40 percent cut in emergency room visits and a 63 percent reduction in hospital admissions resulting from its remote home monitoring system. Telehealth technologies could avoid 850,000 transports between emergency departments, resulting in transit cost savings of $537 million a year.  For patients and doctors in rural areas, travel costs are being significantly reduced when they have access to high-speed broadband.    

Aside from increased medical attention, telehealth improves the quality of care, facilitates a more dynamic interaction between medical provider and patient, and overall reduces the costs of the health care system.  When telehealth reduces the need for or the distance related to medical attention, we inevitably reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fuel consumption.

Business and Long Distance Communication Technology:  The emergence of a global economy has increased the need for business travel, in many cases for long distances, which negatively affects the environment. Recent technological advancements, such as advanced video-based teleconferencing, have become viable substitutes.  For instance, video conferencing expends 500 times less energy than a 1000 km [620 mile] business flight.  Conducting virtual meetings to replace remote in person interactions could reduce 20-30 MMT of carbon dioxide emissions and provide gross savings of $5-10 billion from reduced spending on fuel for airplanes.

Broadband-supported applications can also help reduce everyday travel associated with employment.  Telecommuting or flex work, combined with labor protections to prevent unmonitored “electronic sweatshops” from arising, can potentially be a key contributor to a greener economy.

E-Commerce:  Since the inception of the Internet, electronic commerce (e-commerce) has grown exponentially, and entrepreneurs, including those in rural areas, can reach out to the entire connected world as a potential consumer base.  This new business frontier not only allows businesses to expand beyond their reach, but it can also benefit the environment by reducing negative emissions associated with traditional off-line shopping. 

In a range of areas, broadband applications are allowing e-distribution to replace the fuel-intensive physical distribution of physical goods.  According to the California Broadband Initiative, if half of today’s movie rentals were accessed by video-on-demand, the country could save the equivalent of 200,000 households’ annual electricity consumption.

Ultimately, especially in applications like telehealth, deploying high-speed broadband is ultimately required to achieve the full life-saving, environmental, and economic benefits of these applications.

The Climate Group - SMART2020: Enabling the low carbon economy in the information age 
Benton Foundation - Using Technology and Innovation to Address Our Nation’s Critical Challenges
Baller-Herbst Report - Bigger Vision, Bolder Action, Brighter Future: Capturing the Promise of Broadband for North Carolina and America  
California Broadband Taskforce - Building Innovation through Broadband: Final Report of the California Broadband Task Force

The Pathway to Networking the Green Economy

"Every American family, business, and community must have access to affordable, world-class broadband networks but the U.S. unfortunately now ranks 16th in the world in broadband adoption."
- Annie Hill, Executive Vice President of Communication Workers of America

In building the smart grid and using broadband technologies to green the economy, there are both challenges and opportunities.  The opportunities are clear:  investments made now will not only create immediate jobs in the economy but also build in long-term energy and economic savings that will pay back those investments many times over.   

However, there are critical decisions to be made to assure that all members of our communities benefit from the transition, from eliminating the digital divide to protecting consumer interests to assuring that current workers in industries find new and better job opportunities.  Any transition to smart grids and new energy management technologies should ensure that consumers and workers in the industry benefit from the economic savings and growth generated. So the following are a few key guidelines for policymakers: 

  • Eliminate the Digital Divide:  Despite the great potential to  create jobs, lessen our dependency on foreign oil and save the environment, limited access to broadband is currently crippling the complex operations that the smart grid requires.  Although broadband access has increased in recent years, broadband subscription rates still remain under 50 percent for some groups, including certain minority populations, rural communities, and households with incomes of less than $50,000 per year.  To fully realize a robust green economic future, it will take a firm and long-standing commitment to extend transformative communication technologies, such as broadband, to all members of the community. 
  • Invest in Infrastructure and Interoperability:  While some industry interests would prefer proprietary systems to lock-in monopoly control and profits, the report stresses that both federal and state policy makers should place support networking infrastructure that is interoperable with existing broadband and Internet systems and where smart appliances and other technologies can work with each other without become obsolete.
  • Protect Consumers’ Interests:  Smart meters and dynamic pricing that allow individuals to track their energy consumption and provide financial incentives for reduced energy use could result in savings for consumers.  Nevertheless, consumer advocates worry that the costs of installing some current proprietary versions of smart meters could outweigh the savings that households would receive from reducing or shifting their energy usage, especially if those meters become technologically outdated and have to be replaced before any savings offset deployment costs.  In addition, if the cost of electricity is dynamically priced throughout the day, this may not benefit, and could harm, consumers such as the elderly and ill, who are not able to alter their energy use. Thus, any smart meter deployment should be done in ways that do not increase costs for residents but instead ensure that any smart meters are deployed only when energy savings can fully cover costs for consumers.
  • Enhance Workers’ Rights:  Annie Hill, Vice-President of the Communications Workers of America, confirmed, “Investments in the green economy — which includes more efficient use of resources and power — are the job creators of the 21st Century."  With more than 564,000 people working in the utility industry, the adoption of smart meters and smart grids will likely change the nature of the work for many front-line utility workers.  Utility workers must receive training and other support necessary to learn the skills to work on new technologies and to build careers in the industry. As such, their employers should not use this transition to downgrade employment, outsource work, or evade union representation.
  • Preserve Existing Conservation Programs:  States also need to learn from mistakes made during utility deregulation and in addition to investing in smart meters, maintain other energy efficiency programs that assist consumers in shifting towards less energy use and subsidize such shifts for low-income users.  Between 1995 and 1999, driven by the deregulation of electricity markets, power companies in North America cut spending on energy efficiency programs by 42 percent.  Any use of smart meters or dynamic pricing must be part of a broader regulated structure that maintains and expands those key energy-efficiency programs, especially for low-income families most in need of their support.

Energy Efficiency.Net - Power Deregulation Fueled Pollution
The Center for American Progress - Smart Grid, Smart Broadband, Smart Infrastructure: Melding Federal Stimulus Programs to Ensure More Bang for the BuckUnited States Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources - Full Committee Oversight Hearing: to receive testimony on the process of smart grid initiatives and technologies 
The Wall Street Journal
- Smart Meter, Dumb Idea? 

Conclusion: States Moving Forward on Networking the Green Economy

"With the smart grid, we partner the public utility with technology into something that builds jobs and brings costs down to consumers." - North Carolina State Senator Joe Sam Queen

Congressman Edward Markey could not sum it better, "broadband will revolutionize the way we communicate and generate electricity in this country."  To achieve the environmental benefits associated with the digital infrastructure, devices, and applications, the United States needs to strengthen its broadband deployment and adoption.  Broadband and information communication technologies have the potential of revolutionizing energy management and economic development.

  • Using Recovery Dollars for Deployment:  The federal recovery plan included billions of dollars to encourage movement towards a smart grid in our nation.  We have detailed a range of ways states are promoting Legislation to Promote Digital Leadership which has included both the creation of Broadband Strategy Councils to strengthen holistic planning and Digital Inclusion Policies to move towards universal adoption of broadband.
  • New Smart Grid Legislation: State legislators are introducing a range of legislation that support the deployment and funding of the smart grid, including bills in Kansas, California, Maine, New York, and Illinois
  • Telehealth Policies:  We've highlighted key policies to promote broadband applications like telehealth, including Reforming medical licensing rules to encourage long-distance medical consultations across state lines and changing Medicaid reimbursement rules to encourage its use.  States should conduct studies and pilot programs to better estimate cost savings and the increased access to the quality care that telehealth provides.

In this vein, the panel last Thursday ended with the final remarks of North Carolina State Senator Joe Sam Queen, who is now working towards introducing smart grid legislation in his state.  By bringing broadband players, utilities, consumers and other groups together, Senator Queen hopes to leverage the energy savings from building a smarter grid to help fund increasing broadband access -- a critical problem in a state with only 50% broadband adoption, particularly the rural communities which often have very low access to high-speed Internet.

Progressive States Network - State Legislation to Promote Digital Leadership
Progressive States Network - Guiding Principles for Broadband Strategy Councils
Progressive States Network - Guiding Principles for Digital Inclusion Policies
Progressive States Network - Telehealth 



Progressive States Network hosted a national conference call on Friday, March 12th at 1:00pm EST announcing the release of a new joint report, Networking the Green Economy: How Broadband & Related Technologies Can Build a Green Economic Future.

On the call, speakers from each organization discussed how smart buildings, smart grids, digital education, and other components of a highly-networked economy can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, conserve energy resources, and promote good green jobs.

Speakers included:

To listen to the conference call, click here.