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Smart grids are taking off

Economist and consultant Ahmad Faruqui knew that the smart grid had arrived on the scene when former Vice President Al Gore wrote of the need to build one in the New York Times in November of this year.  “I was struck by the visibility,” said Faruqui, pointing out that much media attention has been focused on the topic lately.

In his article Gore called for investments totalling $400 billion over a 10 year period for underground transmission lines that could transfer power from distributed renewable generation sites to urban centres.  Even though the term “smart grid” is applied loosely to a range of technologies including home area networks, smart meters, and advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), industry experts believe that the time has finally come for many of these innovations to be introduced on a grand scale.

Smart grids for a smart planet

For much of the twentieth century, then-modern power grids were the technological marvels of their time and stood as an embodiment of the engineering triumphs of the age.  Plentiful and cheap electricity fundamentally transformed and improved everyday life.

However, in the 21st century, times have changed.  Energy isn’t so cheap anymore and the impact on the natural environment has become a priority where before it was never considered.  Power companies weren’t considering customer service as they strung thousands of miles of transmission wires throughout the world – the goal was merely to provide the world with power.  

Obama urged to develop smart grid

A leading developer of smart grid technology is urging the new Obama administration to take the steps necessary for implementing a true smart grid.  Optimal Technologies International says the smart grid will guarantee a safe, secure, reliable and efficient power source for a sustainable future.

President-elect Obama made a sustainable future power grid central to his campaign as he was swept into office in November.  Obama has voiced lofty goals for renewable energy and a smart grid that will integrate plug-in vehicles.  Thousands of new jobs will be created from the new technology as it is implemented including new opportunities from the demand side.  Power consumers will be able to sell excess energy generated at the home back to the grid.

Houston meters are getting smarter

Very soon, Houston, Texas area electric customers will use their electric meters to save money on their electric bills.  Beginning in 2009, a smart meter installation program will begin that will blanked the Houston area with the devices.  For the first time, consumers will have the ability to monitor and manage their power consumption and will eventually be able to precisely see how much power is being used at any specific point in time.  First, however, more than two million new smart meters have to be installed.

The old, mechanical meters with their all-too-familiar rotating dials will soon become notions of the past.  Smart meters that operate using network protocols will replace the mechanical devices forever and consumers will be able to use them to conserve energy and save money.  The devices will also allow for remote connecting and disconnecting of services.

Hawaiian utility to install AMI

On December 23 representatives of Sensus Metering Systems and the Hawaiian Electric Company announced an agreement to deploy Sensus’ FlexNet wireless smart grid solution.  The definitive agreement comes following rigorous field testing of the system that lasted two years where thousands of smart meters were tested in numerous settings and environments on the Hawaiian island of Oahu.

Hawaiian Electric and its subsidiaries are responsible for providing electricity for 95 percent of residents in Hawaii.  First established in 1891, the utility remains as one of the last remaining major companies that are locally owned.

2009 The Year of the SmartGrid

In recent years, investments in green technologies have exploded.  In 2007, it was all about ethanol, this year solar power investments surged, and next year money will be flowing into smart grid development.

“I’m more convinced than ever that it’s just about to happen,” said Drew Clark of IBM’s Venture Capital Group.  “Cleantech may be the only category that is left relatively unscathed and [venture capitalists] are looking to put new money into traditional IT type of companies and smart grid is exactly that.”

IBM’s venture capital investment patterns can be viewed as a weathervane of upcoming trends.  The group doesn’t make direct investments in start-up companies but does meet with them, and other venture capitalists, in order to determine what technology trends are developing on the horizon.  IBM then will determine how it can diversify its strategy to meet with the emerging technologies.

American utilities seek stimulus money

A group that represents 70 percent of the American power industry teamed with energy associations and environmentalists to call on the Obama administration to encourage energy efficiency in order to jump-start the sagging economy.

Stimulus money could be used to develop the smart grid and provide smart meters for consumers that detail precisely how much energy they are using and when they are using it.  Energy providers would be able to adjust rates accordingly to demand.    

A record year for Ember

Ember has had a record year in 2008.  The company set records for product shipments and revenue and has emerged as a global leader in low-power wireless mesh networking systems – a key component of advanced metering infrastructure (AMI).

This year saw Ember ship a record number of its ZigBee-enabled semiconductors – in total more than all of the previous years combined.  ZigBee wireless sensors play an integral part of AMI on which smart meters depend to function.  Ember is a dominant vendor of ZigBee-based wireless technology.

New smart meter technology company announced at Oxford

The University of Oxford’s technology transfer company, Isis Innovation, announced on December 16 that a technology developed at the university has been spun off into a new company. Navetas Energy Management provided funding for the new company, called Intelligent Sustainable Energy (ISE), to further development of the smart meter-enhancing technology.

Financial crisis could speed up smart grid development

Just as President Roosevelt’s New Deal built numerous hydroelectric dams, today’s financial crisis could quicken the development of the smart grid in the United States.