A Smart Grid Thanksgiving List

The Atlantic magazine had a recent article about the top 50 innovations in human history in the last 6000 years.  Number one on the list was the printing press.  It beat electricity (#2) as the most game-changing technology breakthrough.

Will any current or future technology breakthroughs found in Smart Grid buildouts be identified in a similar list in 25 years?  I think so.  The Smart Grid melds communications networks with electricity grids, and that is triggering an upwelling of new products, services, and businesses that create new value.   As a very active vertical in the larger M2M (machine to machine) sector, grid modernization is instigating innovations in materials sciences (such as graphene research and battery developments) and communications (such as cognitive radio research and energy-harvesting sensors).  I applaud all the innovators and early adopters of new technologies who are braving skeptical naysayers, convincing investors, and calling for changes to outdated policies and business models to help ensure that our electric grid continues to be safe, reliable, and in the future, resilient.

That’s why, prompted by the upcoming American Thanksgiving holiday, energy entrepreneurs top my list of energy-related reasons to give thanks in 2013.

  1. Entrepreneurs focused on innovative products and services that save energy and/or water.  They could be spending their time on extremely derivative startups focused on more ways to target ads at us so we consume more stuff, and I see many in that category in Silicon Valley.  Instead, energy entrepreneurs want to improve the world we live in, and make a well-deserved buck doing it.  They are working on serious solutions that leverage communications, sensors, and analytics to build awareness of consumption and how to intelligently manage water and energy use.  They are also creating new ways of financing renewable energy or energy efficiency retrofits to accelerate deployment of innovations that form the Smart Grid.
  2. AB2514.  This California law directed the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to study the possibilities of energy storage integration into the state’s grid.  That in turn triggered a recent CPUC ruling that orders the 3 California investor-owned utilities (IOUs) to invest in energy storage – for a total of 1.325 GW by 2020. California policy-makers recognize the value of coupling energy storage with renewables.   California is the ninth largest economy in the world, and this law just created the market for utility-scale energy storage in the USA.
  3. Tesla Motors.  There are more and more EV models available for purchase now, but Tesla put the cool factor into the EVs.  A recent news report in the San Jose Mercury News noted that the Model S is the top-selling vehicle in eight of the nation’s 25 wealthiest ZIP codes.  (Six of those eight zip codes are in Silicon Valley.)  Anything that accelerates the transition away from fossil fuel-based transportation is an extraordinarily good thing, and Tesla accelerates very nicely while looking cool too.
  4. MLP Parity Act.  The Master Limited Partnership Parity Act is pending legislation in the US Senate, co-sponsored by a bi-partisan(!) group of senators led by Chris Coons (Delaware) and Jerry Moran (Kansas).  I am thankful that some political leaders recognize the inequities of the current tax law that favors polluting fossil fuels, and are actively working to level the playing field for clean renewable sources of energy like wind and solar.  Let’s hope they succeed in getting this common-sense legislation into law.  You can help by writing your senators and encouraging them to support this legislation.  Find out more at this site.
  5. Thomas Edison – the first energy entrepreneur.  He harnessed electricity into its first useful application – the incandescent light bulb.  Before that, it was an interesting phenomenon.  Modern economies and societies can’t exist without electricity.  If he was alive today, I’m sure he’d be in a lab somewhere tinkering on better materials for integrated circuits to reduce the energy that ends up as waste heat or building an even better light bulb.