The Smart Grid Is Heavy -- Very Heavy -- On Potential

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The mutually beneficial relationship among the telecommunications, IT and power industries surrounding smart grid got a boost today as Current Group and Verizon agreed to work together to provide electric utilities with real-time power consumption and analysis. The platform will use Current's intelligent sensors, the OpenGrid utility management system and its System Optimization and Reliability analytical software platform. Verizon's contribution, according to the press release, will be wireless and IP network services and managed network and security services.


On one level, this is a fairly normal deal. But in the bigger picture, it is a terrific illustration of the extraordinary potential of smart grid for IT and telecom vendors, service providers and others. The power grid is enormous. Eventually, every house, apartment, business and other structure represents an opportunity. There are different levels of service provided to each at every phase of the game: In some cases, energy use is only monitored. In others, it is both monitored and controlled.


This is potentially one killer of a killer app. Of course, the terms "potential" and "potentially" come up often in a discussion of smart grid. Early last month, Zpryme Research & Consulting Managing Director Mark Ishacdescribed the various areas in which smart grid and the telecom and IT industries can work tighter. The year ahead, he said, will be pivotal:


Obviously it's just the beginning for smart grid. It could become the next industrial revolution with substantial impact on all facets of how we as consumers use electricity. I certainly believe the key is not the technology. It's you and I, the consumer. It's about getting consumers to buy. During the next 12 months, the most important thing is marketing to consumers, understanding the consumer, engaging the consumer and getting closer to the consumer.


The broadband stimulus is coming around at the right time for smart grid, and the broadband industry's initiatives within it. A lot is still unclear. One thing that is clear, however, is that the feds are bringing lots of money. More information on how this will shake out, Earth2Tech reports, will be available in the middle of next month. The story reports on a Jan. 21 presentation by Nick Sinai, the Federal Communications Commission's new Energy and Environmental Director, at the Cleantech Investor Summit. Reporter Katie Fehrenbacher concluded that it "[s]ounds like the sector of the smart grid industry with roots in the IT world (Cisco, IBM, Silver Spring Networks) just got a close ally."


While the precise amounts, the process by which they will be awarded and other details are still evolving, the total amounts-from the government, from private investors and from other sources-will be huge. For instance, CNET reports that Pike Research predicts that utilities will spend $21 billion during the next five years just on cyber security.


The telecommunications and IT industries are on the threshold of a killer app-or, perhaps, a set of killer apps -- that are perhaps unprecedented. The ecosystem of vendors, service providers, consultants and others is right to be excited. The icing on the cake is that the goal of better managing and reducing energy consumption-the reason that there is a smart industry at all-simply is the right thing to do.