Headlines out of the West Coast in recent week have been dominated by the increasingly “smart” world that we are moving into in this 21st century – smart grids, smart meters, smart buildings, smart homes, smart energy …

Of course a major reason for this is the availability of funding for smart grids under the nation’s economic recovery plan, which has stimulated much activity within utilities as well as at the state, regional and national levels.

But let’s not lose sight of the fact that many utilities have had smart grid projects well under way, in some cases, such as the California IOUs, for several years and these are playing a pioneering role in the rollout of the nation’s smart metering and smart grid.

San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), for example, has reached an advanced stage in its electric vehicle testing program, confirming the viability of electricity as a clean “fuel” and validating the increased efficiencies of plug-in hybrid technology (see Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles excel, SDG&E study finds). Southern California Edison is to undertake a participating load demand response project (see Southern California Edison to launch participating load smart grid project).

Another topic of recent headlines has been renewable energies and net metering. The smart grid will open the way for connection of significant renewable capacity, and a start has been made in identifying potential West Coast sites (see Western renewable energy zones identified). However, renewables will bring with them a cost (see Ambitious renewable requirements in California could add more than 10% to 2020 electricity costs, PUC finds).

California, widely regarded as a leader for its net metering program, also needs to decide how to expand this activity in the future (see California net metering amendments supported).

A recent study from the California Energy Commission (“A comparison of per capita electricity consumption in the United States and California” by Adrienne Kandel, Margaret Sheridan and Patrick McAuliffe) confirmed that California’s per capita electricity consumption is the lowest in the U.S. – in 2005, per capita consumption was 43% less than the nation as a whole – and attributed this, in part at least, to electricity pricing, demographics and the weather. But further savings are possible with, for example, new green building standards (see California launches nation's first green building standards code).

Such activities, and indeed all of these, are providing increasing challenges to utilities, which is why Smart Energy West Coast, taking place in San Diego from Monday, August 31 to Tuesday, September 1, is particularly timely. This smart energy world demands smart customers and smart utilities and Smart Energy West Coast will explore the issues that will make West Coast utilities smarter, including building the foundation for the smart grid, communications technologies and meter data management, as well as extensions beyond the meter such as home networking and connectivity, demand side management and energy efficiency technologies, and electric vehicles.

Co-located with Smart Energy West Coast is the Universal Powerline Association’s first global event, Plug into Profit 09 conference and expo, focusing on the latest developments and technology in the Powerline Communication Technology (PLC) industry.

SDG&E is the host utility for Smart Energy West Coast 2009 and will be represented by among others Michael Niggli, COO, who will review the company’s role in developing smart energy programs in the keynote.

Other industry leading speakers include Irene Stillings, executive director of the California Center for Sustainable Energy who will discuss California’s long term energy efficiency strategic plan, and Henry Marcy, vice president technology at Whirlpool Corporation, who will review energy conservation via connected appliances.

For more information, visit www.smart-energy.com/sewc