The $4.5 billion assigned to smart grid project funding from the $700 billion-plus U.S. stimulus package has been called inadequate by some, given the size of the job. However, so early in the process, that number doesn't begin to define the size of the nationwide effort to create the series of connections between the energy distribution industry, IT and telecommunications needed to boost the systems' efficiencies. And with continuing public displays of support for smart grid technology from President Obama and members of his administration, along with pressure from European and Asian countries that are ahead of the U.S. in technology implementation, smart grid's growth potential looks a bit limitless.
Microsoft's latest smart grid-related announcement is its reference architecture designed specifically for utilities. The Smart Energy Reference Architecture (SERA) announcement comes with a list of endorsements from large utility companies around the country and from integrators like Accenture. That last group will be key in keeping utilities focused when it comes time to make final decisions about connecting private and public networks and coming to terms with shifting business models that will no longer be built around simply selling the most electricity. They'll also play a large role in guiding utility customers through the evolution of Microsoft's, Cisco's, IBM's and others' smart grid plans -- as many of the same outfits are endorsing grid tech plans from all of these industry leaders as they arrive.
Nobody is sticking their neck out too far yet on how long it will take for a critical mass of smart grid proposals and projects to be completed and start creating the efficiencies they're being designed to offer. One of the largest and most influential proposals was announced this week, New Mexico's Tres Amigas SuperStation, which would be the world's largest power converter and connect the United States' three power grids. Projections say the converter could begin operations in 2013 or 2014, but long-term financing is not secured, nor are state and federal approvals for the project.
Meanwhile, industry folks like GE Energy's VP of transmission and distribution Bob Gilligan speak of making a more concerted push for education of consumers, utilities and government agencies to make sure that the momentum created in this honeymoon period doesn't dissipate.
On the consumer side, Microsoft's current tool for education is the Hohm application project. As utilities bring SERA in-house, we'll soon be able to see reports of how IT is integrating industry systems and usage data.