Is the Smart Grid Finally at the Tipping Point?

Is the Smart Grid Finally at the Tipping Point?

The Smart Grid has gotten plenty of hype and little action, but in the last few days there are serious signs that it may finally be at the tipping point.
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What the smart grid needs most of all, of course, is money. Without it, the grid will languish, and IT won't reap its benefits. Yesterday, the federal government gave the grid a big boost with more than $57 million in stimulus money. That's a very big boost.

The federal dollars will go towards a wide variety of projects across the country, from Massachusetts to Nevada, California, and out to Hawaii. None directly affect IT at least for now. For example, more than $5.6 million is going to the Consolidated Edison Company of New York, to "develop and demonstrate true interoperability between an energy delivery company and retail electric consumers."

That may not sound as if it will have a direct benefit for IT, but in the long run, it will. If communications can be developed on the grid between an electric provider and retail consumers, that same kind of technology can be used for businesses as well. And ultimately, two-way communications will allow IT shops to control not just the flow of electricity, but also all devices on the smart grid network, meaning IT gear and more.

There are plenty more grants as well. In a press release, the Department of Energy explained:
The $47 million in Recovery Act awards announced today will support existing projects that are advancing demonstration-scale smart grid technologies which will play an important role in modernizing the country’s electricity grid. This investment will add to the $17 million in funds the Department had awarded these projects in 2008 following a competitive award process. By accelerating the completion timelines for each of the projects, the Recovery Act funds will help modernize the electric grid, allowing for greater integration of renewable energy sources while increasing the reliability, efficiency and security of the nation’s electricity transmission and distribution system.
Last week there was another indication that the Smart Grid is finally poised to take off. The research firm Parks Associates released a report noting that more than 8 million smart meters are already deployed in the U.S., and that more are on the way. So the Smart Grid, it notes, is already becoming a reality. Read its press release for details.

None of this will yet have a direct impact on greening IT. In the long run it will, though, because the Smart Grid will let IT staff make far better use of energy in the data center as well as on individual PCs.

Beyond that, the grid will make the IT department the centerpiece of green projects in enterprises, because all devices, including lights and other power-hungry devices, will ultimately connect to the grid. They will be controlled via some kind of central command post, and there's no one who can do that better than IT.