The state government is getting energized about electricity. Michigan was recently awarded $5 million in federal stimulus funds to train workers in the electrical power industry. In addition to creating much-needed jobs, the program has given the state the opportunity — and the resources — to arm workers with the skills needed to modernize and update its outdated power system. These funds will allow Michigan to maximize its energy efficiency and will encourage the growth of new environmentally friendly industries. The state should use the federal funds and the creation of the smart grid to kick-start its transition to a greener, more diversified economy.

Last week, the Obama administration announced the $5 million award, which is part of the 2009 American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, more commonly known as the stimulus plan. The grant is part of a larger, $4 billion federal initiative to spur the growth of “smart grids” across the country, which refers to a broad set of improvements to the electrical system. The program hopes to eventually train 30,000 workers for 54 smart grid projects nationwide.

These initiatives will modernize Michigan’s electrical grid and improve its reliability and efficiency. Home electrical systems will be retrofitted to communicate with energy suppliers, which will allow households to buy only the energy they need when they need it. This will help homeowners save money by avoiding using electricity during the hours where energy use is at its peak. And the smart grid will be able to determine which appliances consume the most power and automatically stop the flow of energy to them when they aren’t being used.

Smart grids also encourage the use of alternative energy. Consumers who equip their homes with solar panels or, in more rural areas, wind turbines will be able to power their own homes and sell excess power back to electrical companies through the smart grid. These advancements will incentivize consumers to both use energy efficiently as well as contribute to the electrical grid in a clean, environmentally friendly way.

But most importantly, this program should help Michigan pull itself out of economic crisis. With an unemployment rate above 14 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Michigan badly needs this opportunity. The program will directly create jobs and retrain workers. And it will also lay a framework for long-term growth in the electrical sector that will call for more jobs in the future.

And the effects of the program won’t be limited to the jobs it hopes to directly create. Consumer’s involvement in generating energy will make them more aware of the impact of their energy choices. Electrical grid modernizations and improvements will encourage the proliferation of other energy-efficient innovations and catalyze demand for solar panels and other means of alternative energy generation. This will draw alternative energy companies to Michigan, creating even more jobs and starting the growth of a new economic sector in the state.

It is clear that the smart grid will transform the way people use and consume energy. But the state shouldn’t overlook the opportunity to use such innovations to shape a sustainable, diversified and green economy.

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