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Why the Smart Grid Will Fuel the Next Big Business Boom

<p>The smart grid has broadly been touted as a critical opportunity for ushering in a cleaner energy economy. Perhaps less understood is the amazing business and investment opportunity smart grid enables for both well-established technology companies and entrepreneurs.</p>

There’s no question that in order to meet our clean energy goals across the globe, we need a smarter grid. Integrating high percentages of renewable power will require a smarter grid to help manage the challenges presented by the inherent intermittency of wind and solar.

To greatly reduce our oil imports and carbon emissions, we need greener transportation and electric vehicles, which require grid intelligence to ensure increased demand from vehicle re-charging does not cripple our electric infrastructure.

Smart grid has broadly been touted as a critical opportunity for ushering in a cleaner energy economy. 

In addition to helping power companies integrate cleaner transportation and greener energy, smart grid will help improve the grid’s efficiency to better manage soaring demand and empower consumers with greater levels of choice and control over their energy consumption and costs. 

Perhaps less understood is the amazing business and investment opportunity smart grid enables for both well-established technology companies and entrepreneurs. With $4.5 billion in U.S. stimulus dollars and $200 billion in private investment expected from 2008-2015 across the globe, it’s clear that smart grid presents a wealth of untapped opportunity for investors, entrepreneurs, and innovators.

And there’s really no question as to why … smart grid, like the Internet, will have a ubiquitous effect on our lives, from the cleaner energy that powers our daily activities, to the power-management technologies that help us most cost-effectively consume it.

In recent months, venture capital dollars have followed the promise of smart grid’s vision. In the third quarter of 2010, smart grid was the third most invested-in technology within the cleantech segment, only after transportation and biofuels.

While money is changing hands, there are still billions of dollars that utilities are keeping in the sidelines -- indicating reticence that is largely driven by unanswered smart grid questions. Uncertainties pertaining to consumer engagement, energy policy, and international standards development must be addressed to effectively and efficiently move smart grid forward.

For this reason, GridWeek has convened a cross-section of industry stakeholders for the past four years to foster the collaboration needed to answer the industry’s most pressing questions -- while providing the business community with unfettered access to the industry-leading organizations and a 30,000-foot view of the smart grid industry.

As part of GridWeek 2010, more than 150 industry-leading speakers and panelists will be addressing critical smart grid issues, helping to answer mission-critical questions on the minds of all smart grid stakeholders.

Here are three of those key questions -- ones that will have a clear impact on the business of smart grid:

1. What path will our national energy policy take?

Today, we have 50 different states, with 50 different approaches to energy policy, and 50 different approaches to utility regulation.  What we’ll get -- 50 different views of smart grid. Until we understand how and if carbon will be taxed, whether we’ll see a national renewable portfolio standard and/or energy efficiency standard, and how these initiatives will be funded, it will be difficult for utilities -- and businesses -- to effectively prioritize their smart grid investments.

2. What will consumer adoption of smart grid look like?

Surveys show that about 70 percent of consumers are not familiar with the term “smart grid.” For such a pivotal group, this is not good news.  Add to this the smart grid backlash we’ve seen in states like California and Texas, and we have a bit of a consumer challenge.

The industry needs consumer support and participation for smart grid success. With consumer buy-in, regulators will be more at ease when approving utility smart grid projects, entrepreneurs will feel free to innovate, and VCs can better assess the value of investment in consumer-facing technologies.

3. How fast will international standards be established?

While the industry has made significant progress, largely thanks to the work of the smart grid Interoperability Panel, smart grid standards have not been set. With standards in place, it will be easier for utilities and their regulators to choose and approve technologies that they feel confident will work with legacy and future systems, and entrepreneurs can feel assured that their innovations will remain relevant for the long haul. 

Guidance in these critical areas will not only help utilities prioritize their smart grid plans, but it will also help investors and entrepreneurs determine where to focus their funding and which investments might be immune to some of these “uncertainties.”

In addition to 40 focused sessions taking place over four days, GridWeek will provide the business community with access to the complete diversity of smart grid stakeholders, a clear view of where the greatest smart grid investment opportunities lie, and access to information on the latest groundbreaking smart grid technologies and trends.

Smart grid provides an once-in-a-lifetime (and once-in-a-career) opportunity to realize unparalleled returns for the economy, for the environment, for future generations, and, of course, for the innovative business minds who make it all possible.  Given the complex web of smart grid stakeholders, we must foster cross-industry collaboration, dialogue, and understanding if we ever expect to realize success.

For that reason, we’ll see you at GridWeek 2010, October 18-21 in Washington, DC. Let’s get down to business. 


Anto Budiardjo is president and CEO of Clasma Events Inc., the firm that organizes ConnectivityWeek, GridWeek and other events focused on the smart grid and other technologies.

Image CC licensed by Flickr user Ian Muttoo.

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