The Obama administration named 100 utility projects Tuesday that will share $3.4 billion in federal stimulus funding to speed deployment of advanced technology designed to cut energy use and make the electric-power grid more robust. When combined with funds from utility customers, the program is expected to inject more than $8 billion into grid modernization efforts nationally, administration officials said. (This story and related background material will be available on The Wall Street Journal Web site, WSJ.com.) "We have a very antiquated system that we need to upgrade," said Carol Browner, energy coordinator for the Obama administration. The Department of Energy said grants of $400,000 to $200 million will lead to the installation of at least 18 million advanced digital meters, which should bring the nation's total to about 40 million, or enough to cover one-quarter to one-third of U.S. homes. The new meters--also known as "smart" meters--funded by the stimulus grants differ from conventional meters because they are electronic, not electro-mechanical, and they contain communicating modules and software that enables them to receive signals and communicate to utilities or to utility customers. They are the backbone of demand-reduction efforts because they will allow utilities to charge different rates at different times of day and they can be programmed to alert consumers when grid conditions require special action. Among the winners are Baltimore Gas & Electric Co., a unit of Constellation Energy Group Inc. (CEG), which will get $200 million it can use in a $451 million program to install 1.1 million digital meters and 400,000 in-home control devices and thermostats. San Diego Gas & Electric Co. will get $28 million to improve communications with the 1.4 million advanced meters it already is installing, part of California's extensive meter upgrade that will be completed in 2012. The U.S. Department of Energy said that the stimulus funds will improve efficiency all along the grid--touching everything from electric substations, to power lines, to transformers, to meters and speeding up the proliferation of energy-saving devices in the home. About 200,000 new generation transformers will alert utilities before they fail. Currently, utilities often use a "run to fail" approach in which they often only replace equipment when it breaks. The new transformers will communicate their condition, either wirelessly or through power-line communications. Funds also will be used to put 850 special sensors on the electric grid that will allow grid operators to more precisely monitor electric frequencies to make sure the system stays in balance. The new sensors could also help to isolate problems, when they happen, to prevent small power disruptions from cascading into big outages, as happened in 2003 with the Northeast blackout that affected 50 million people. Energy Department officials stressed, in a press briefing Monday evening, that consumers will benefit from the investments. New meters and energy monitoring systems will give consumers better information to manage their energy use, and make it easier for power companies to use more renewable energy. Electricity from wind turbines or solar power systems tends to come in uneven bursts--when the wind is strong or the sun bright. A digital grid would be better able to handle those ups and downs, proponents of the investments say.