QUINCY -- The Illinois Commerce Commission recently launched an 18-month study to investigate the use of emerging technologies to improve the state's electric grid.
The "NextGrid: Illinois' Utility of the Future" study is the cooperative effort of the ICC, Ameren Illinois, ComEd, and the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at the University of Illinois. ICC Chairman Brien J. Sheahan described NextGrid as a "consumer-focused collaborative study to transform Illinois' energy landscape and economy." The study is prompted by innovations in technology and energy efficiency, and the push for renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.
"By bringing together stakeholders and experts in technology, energy, business and government -- as well as consumer advocates -- we will produce a clear blueprint to guide us into the future," ICC Executive Director Cholly Smith said.
The NextGrid study builds on a clean-energy push in Illinois that has included legislation, such as the Energy Infrastructure Modernization Act and the Future Energy Jobs Act, aimed at transforming the energy industry.
NextGrid comes on the heels of a recent report by M.J. Bradley and Associates, commissioned by the Charge Up Midwest coalition, that found the widespread adoption of electric vehicles in Illinois could spark up to $43 billion in benefits -- from reduced utility bills, savings on fuel and vehicle expenses, and carbon pollution reduction -- by 2050.
"This has never been done before, to quantify the statewide benefits of electric vehicles," said Noah Garcia, transportation policy analyst of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Garcia said the expanded use of electric vehicles would have a significant effect on greenhouse gas emissions and could prompt savings that benefit all utility customers -- even people who do not drive electric vehicles.
"The time scale is still a few decades in the future, but I think it's important to plan for electric vehicles now," he said.
A lack of charging infrastructure in Illinois presents a barrier to the widespread use of electric vehicles, Garcia said.
"It's hard to imagine purchasing an electric vehicle if you don't have a charging station at home or on your commute," he said.
Charging infrastructure is particularly sparse in rural areas such as Adams County. Garcia said the NextGrid study has the potential to get utility providers engaged in the push to go green, which could help expand such infrastructure beyond metropolitan areas.
"There are definitely bigger hurdles in smaller areas," he said, "but if utilities are committed to reaching out and providing infrastructure, the urban and rural divide should wash away."