Monday, March 2, 2009

Austin in Front of Gathering Smart Grid Storm

The inclusion of $4.5 billion (and more) for “electricity delivery and energy reliability activities to modernize the electric grid” in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 has pulled a swarm of attention towards smart grid initiatives and entrepreneurship. Austin will likely be a major beneficiary.

Since the passage of this bill, major news distributors including CNN and The New York Times have run educational articles on the possibilities raised by the development of a smart grid.  However, the most clear explanation may be from the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) : 

"The smart grid overlays the electricity network with communications and computer control. When this enabling infrastructure is matched with smart grid application in transmission, distribution, or within a customer portal, then the resulting smart grid can reach significant gains in reliability, capacity, demand response, and offer value added customer services."

KEMA, in a paper prepared for the Gridwise Alliance, anticipates that a "potential" $16 billion investment in the deployment of smart grids during the next four years may directly lead to an estimated 139,700 permanent jobs and even more indirectly.   In a move that is causing someto worry about data privacy, even Google is getting in this sphere by developing an energy information platform called PowerMeter. And it's not just Google. 

Despite economic concerns, the growing consensus is that government funding and open standards oversight will unleash the vast entrepreneurial possibilities granted by information technology onto the country's energy system. Most also agree that the government's support and endorsement of smart grids will enable the technology to be competitive for dwindling venture capital.

Austin, while currently outpaced by other cities in clean energy manufacturing, is in a great position to seize this opportunity. The combination of a highly skilled workforce, a high concentration of technology companies, an innovative energy provider with a board partially comprised of city council members, and an environmentally conscience citizenry makes Austin one of a handful of cities most likely to benefit from smart grid investments and innovation.

In this maelstrom of publicity on smart grids, the Pecan Street Initiative is getting Austin attention. With an impressive combination of non-proft, governmental, and corporate partnership, the Pecan Street Initiative aims to make Austin a model of energy generation and distribution for the nation.  

One of Austin goals with this project is to provide citizens with at least 30% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Due to the variability in solar and wind generation, an updated grid is a prerequisite for managing and maintaining this enormous increase in renewable energy. Supporters of smart grids also anticipate large improvements in efficiency that will enable a smaller amount of renewable energy to be a larger portion of the total energy provided.

A fully integrated smart grid of this scale has never been implemented. It will not be easy. This plan will require foresight and long term cost-benefit analysis from the political and business realms. However, due to the collaboration and congruence between Austin's public and private sectors, Austin may be better suited and equipped for the challenge of creating a smart grid and capitalizing on smart grid opportunites than anywhere else in the country.


Som said...

Though the implementation of smart grids technology presents considerable challenge, I think it is definitely the right way forward. If we are to expand our energy supply fronts to include diverse sources (diverse in terms of their efficiency, reliability, size and mode of generation amongst several other things), the only way to do so would be an intelligent grid system far more superior than the technology designed by Tesla 110 yrs ago. The smart grid has the potential to revolutionize the way we use energy, like Web2.0 has changed the way we use the internet.

Austin should embark on this project and teach the world a thing or two. Thank you for bringing it to our attention, a nice post indeed!

Anonymous said...

This would be a great topic to ask Roger Duncan of Austin Energy about on Tuesday...