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SmartGrid Transitions chronicles both the technological and professional transitions that will result from re-energizing the world.

Technology transitions are fascinating to observe as well as participate in. This site aggregates a number of sources relevant to SmartGrid technology. Suggestions and comments are always welcome.

Growing a massive new industry will involve significant professional transitions as well. An influx of newcomers such as myself will be needed to start new companies and do new jobs. We are all trying to learn this new space: New acronyms, new business models, new assumptions. Let's do it together!

Is this the future?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

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RPS (renewable portfolio standards) and other measures are pushing a more complex mix of energy sources onto the grid. These sources all require more intricate management than the conventional combination of base load (usually coal/hydro nuclear) and dispatchable (usually combined cycle natural gas) generation. We've been tracking a number of software and sensor providers, but this is new. Rather than try to grow a new generation of IT savvy technologists, Duke Energy outsources the grid management to Integral Analytics, a relatively new startup. It is only a pilot project, but I think we should watch this closely.

Smart Grid in the main stream media - not bad!

Monday, June 08, 2009

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This story on yahoo is the second big mainstream Smart Grid story I've seen in the last couple weeks. I was initially concerned that it had the same flavor as this Wall Street Journal article from a few weeks back, but the tone is mostly positive. The Yahoo article seemed to be sticking to the 'fair and balanced' mandate of including some negativity at the end of the piece. Interestingly, the negativity seems to have converged on the following: The utilities are going to charge us for the priveledge of charging us more. The utilities are rolling out Smart Meters, at some cost which the public will absorb. These will allow the utilities to more closely monitor consumption patterns, and charge customers more. Most experts agree that the real story is that capital investment is unavoidable, the question is where will it go? New generation or better efficiency tools like smart metering? My concern is that most of the demonstration projects I'm hearing about seem focused on residential customers. Advanced Metering is a pretty complex concept for non-technorati. It seems better targeted for professionally managed facilities. These could include residences, but I'd rather see a professionally managed apartment complex than a single-family home.

Spotlight on Storage

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

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Storage for the Smart Grid has definitely been on the radar lately. Several recent articles have brought this sector into the forground. We start with a bold statement of market growth. A total of $4B is not huge, but 10x growth in a decade is nothing to sneeze at. The details are here, but I don't think it counts PHEV batteries as part of 'grid storage'.

On the technical side, the Electicity Storage Association has a great overview of storage methods, as well as significant players in each.

Oracle on the move

Friday, May 29, 2009

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Oracle has recently announced that it will offer 'end-to-end' smart grid software. This has had the desired effect of making all of us thinking about small companies nervous. I did some digging, and Oracle has certainly been brewing this for a while. First, for those of use who only know (& 'love') their DB products, Oracle has been in the apps business for a while, most notably with the acquisition of PeopleSoft in 2004, and mostly through acquisitions.

There are a couple of acquisitions behind this announcement: SPL Worldgroup was acquired in 2006 and LodeStar in 2007. SPL is described as a billing management company, and LodeStart does advanced meter data managment. So those look like the pieces: more sophisticated, context sensitive billing based on more sophisticated meter data. The actual smart meters come from somebody else. Of course, all the data gets stored in big Oracle databases. All that's lacking is a big splashy demo like GE-Cisco's Miami Smart Grid.

With an identically worded announcement from Trilliant, it appears we can expect an behemoth newcomer vs nimble insider showdown in the near future.


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I thought a trillion dollars for the whole thing was a lot!

Friday, May 29, 2009

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A recent news article really caught my eye. In a previous post, I pointed to a white paper that estimates grid infrastructure upgrades at upwards of a trillion dollars. That certainly seems like a huge sum, and really caught my eye as a bold statement of market size. Here's a company, Mainstream Renewable Power, that's talking about $1.5T for a single project. How does that work? Is this just marketing to create a buzz, establish an expectation of trillions in order to make billions seem cheap? I will keep an eye on this to see whether the story has legs.

TCN CleanTech Capital Program - Premium Energy?

Saturday, May 09, 2009

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I attended the TCN CleanTech Capital Program on Tuesday, May 5th. Several brief observations: 
  1. There are amazing resources for entrepreneurs. TCN has several relevant events in addition to this one. One of the panelists, Dr. Linda Plano, is a member of the Mass Technology Transfer Center. She sponsors a CleanTech specific conference, among other relevant activities.  
  2. You want to be on the demand side of the business unless you can figure out how to get a multibillion dollar credit line. All the panelists agreed that 'demand side' refers to energy conservation, demand response, and energy monitoring - both low capital AND lightly regulated. The only play on the supply side is as a small supplier. Second Wind was highlighted as a company with a relatively low capital, short sales cycle product and thus had a chance as a startup amongst the behemoths. 
  3. The most  interesting exchange of the evening occured between a panelist and a telecom alumni interested in transitioning to CleanTech. The topic was the expected lifetime of capital equipment in the energy space.  The conventional wisdom is to expect a 40 year lifecycle. The telecom alumni pointed out that this was the expectation in telecom as well, back in the scratchy voice over copper days; the situation changed drastically; the same can be true in CleanTech. The panelist countered that telecom upgrades were driven by a vast array of new high-value services: voicemail, sms, mobile, etc, but that watts were watts.

    So, today's question to ponder: truth or lack of vision? Is there some value added in energy that will drive the kind of short product cycles that make for a booming industry, or are we talking a one-time changeover from fossil fuel to renewables, and then we're done?

IERG International CleanTech Panel 2009

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

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the International Executives Resource Group (IERG) hosted a CleanTech Panel discussion on April 27th at Choate Hall & Stuart LLP. IERG is a general interest organization, accordingly the panel was targeted to a non-specialist audience. My interest was peaked by two panelists from GreatPoint Energy, a provider of 'clean coal' technology. As my use of quotes indicates, I am at best lukewarm about the role that coal has to play in CleanTech. I do try to be open minded, and was hoping to better understand the technological reasons for coal's place at the 'green' table. Here's what I got out of the panel:

  1. If there is a technological argument for coal gassification as a GHG reduction tool, the panelists did not make it. One of the few positives I will give coal is that MIT is engaging in a Carbon Sequestration intitiative, and the default position is that MIT research initiatives are technically sound.
  2. The panelists observed that especially in this (economic) climate, it is hard to get funding for billion dollar mega-projects. Overall, the panel was receptive to the idea of these efforts being US government sponored. The least public sector friendly individuals both on the panel and in the audience at a minimum conceeded that the Europeans, Chinese and Indian governments will almost certainly fund these mega projects. The chances of US industry and US jobs coming out of these non-US efforts are pretty low.
  3. There was significant discussion about the state of stimulus funding. The consensus was that a number of 'Cleantech' sectors have been identified as recipients of stimulus money, but that no one was sure what the next step was, as well as which of the huge array of federal programs was going to be the ideal stimulus delivery vehicle. In this light, news about the Miami Smart Grid initiative takes on greater interest. I've read a number of articles on this. All refer to 'expectation of stimulus money' but no one explains beyond that statement. Do the players (all large fortune 500's) know something the rest of us don't? Can they afford to take a chance that the stimulus money either will not come or will come late?