One of the challenges of tracking the smart energy industry sector is that it is so broad that it is difficult to get a handle on, whether it is doing well or poorly. Indeed, there is no definitive answer to that question: One area can thrive and another can struggle.
News of the past few weeks is a good example of the confused and amorphous nature of this segment, which covers a huge swatch - in short, anything that uses the power grid.
On one hand, Google said it will terminate the PowerMeter Web energy management tool as of Sept. 16. GigaOM writer Katie Fehrenbacher said that her information was that it had only 11,000 users. The project was never designed as a revenue generator and, she tartly points out, "that turned out to be true." She adds:
Turns out it's difficult for a large Internet company to convince utilities to partner with it, and it's also hard to get consumers to care about energy consumption. At the same time, PowerMeter was closely tied to smart meter data when it was first launched, and smart meter installations were still in an early stage back in 2009 (and still are).
The fact that a company such as Google couldn't make the project work - and even in an atmosphere where revenue wasn't an issue - would seem to put a damper on the overall concept of marrying advanced IT, telecommunications and power distribution.
But it isn't so. For instance, Pike Research reported this week that the Asia-Pacific smart-grid market will reach $28.8 billion by 2017 and cumulative investment tops out at $171.3 billion. The annual investment this year is $11.9 billion. That type of investment belies any, though that segment is struggling.
Smaller signs abound as well. The city of Burlington, Vt. and Washington state have announced smart-grid-connected projects. Reuters reports that the federal government is pushing smart grid through, but the piece suggests that it is having difficulty finding private matches for the funding that it is offering.
It is possible to draw a line between the soon-to-conclude PowerMeter project - which is a consumer-level initiative - and the seemingly healthier utility-level initiatives. But, in the big picture, they all are in the same game. Each contributes its bit to the health of the overall sector. In any case, the public doesn't recognize any distinction.