The year of the smart grid


The awarding of the first tranche of the United States smart grid stimulus funding has come and gone, with over $3.4 billion awarded to one hundred utilities, companies and other parties for the installation of smart meters and other “smart” components as well as the development of the industry in general. Add in the matching investment from the recipients and the total investment in the industry will be almost $8.2 billion – and that’s excluding the other investments that are being, and will be made in non-stimulus projects.

Whether this stimulus, or “government intrusion” as Compos Mentis puts it (page 10), will achieve all of its economic recovery aims, for example in terms of industry stimulation and job creation, is an open question and will be able to be accurately assessed only years hence. But what is clear is that it is additional money into the system and also that it is obviously having the effect of accelerating the smart grid development process.

I believe this high profile accorded to smart grids in the US has had at least two other effects, of which one is that it has helped to bring smart grids into the public eye. While from a public news perspective the best news is generally the worst news – and in the case of smart grids, it was the threat of hacking and worm propagation that made the headlines – even that cannot be too bad if it brings the subject into the public consciousness. Of course it then challenges utilities on what and how to communicate with their customers, but all utilities involved in smart grid and smart meter rollouts – and those that are not – should be doing that anyway.

The second effect, I believe, is that it has spurred the growing interest in smart grids globally and over the past 12 months or so in every region of the world, developed and developing alike, there is now some degree of smart grid activity. In some cases momentum is building rapidly, such as in China, which is aiming to build a smart grid within 10 years. However, in other cases the pace appears to be slower, such as in Europe, where a Europe-wide vision and roadmap has yet to be developed. Indeed, Europe’s smart grid could well benefit from its own economic stimulus to accelerate its development.

That said, without doubt the smart grid has become a global issue such that we can call 2009-10 the “year of the smart grid.”

Jonathan Spencer Jones