We are collectively encumbered by an electrical grid based on century-old technology and a 50-year old infrastructure. Over the past couple of years, Maravedis has witnessed an increasing number of its customers peeking under the utility hood to get better involved in emerging smart grid initiatives. Hence, we've joined up with graduate students at the University of Maryland University College to canvas the smart grid landscape, talk to industry leaders, and essentially study "Smart Grids and the New Utility" to get a clear understanding of what "smart grid" means to its growing community of interested parties--particularly carriers and telecom vendors.
Where does the smart grid rank among company priorities; what are the key drivers, obstacles and trends impacting its deployment; what technologies are being deployed, where does wireless and 4G have a play; and who are the utilities, telecommunication operators, solutions providers, and vendors leading the charge? Moreover, how is the consumer sphere reacting and what can they expect regarding new features, functionalities, services and pricing models as intelligence gets backed into the grid from generation to transmission, and distribution to the home
What we're finding is electricity is indeed seeking a "new normal:" a smart grid that will transform electricity as a commodity and fully realize the grid's real capacity as a modern infrastructure. Vendors that can provide solutions for real-time monitoring, data aggregation and consumer feedback get to the front of the line, because the new grid will reward conservation versus consumption.
- Standards protocols need to be agreed on, from device to network, and especially across utilities (IOU, Muni and Coops, all who are regulated differently); driving the need for utility-agnostic devices
- While most of the smart grid focus is on micro-energy management within the household, the onslaught of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles will require new macro-energy levels of management
- Use of licensed spectrum is preferred over unlicensed, placing WiMAX and LTE at an advantage for wireless smart meter communication and the backhauling of aggregated usage data
- Wireless carriers see smart grid initiatives helping drive machine-to-machine services
- Like the Kindle and the iPad, smart meters offer new opportunities in monetizing 3G wireless services
- Will utilities ultimately emerge as a new breed of carrier after embracing IP technologies, wireless access and intelligent two-way devices? While the consensus is no, for a number of reasons which are covered in our upcoming "Smart Grid and the New Utility" report, we did find some interesting examples of electricity coops rolling out triple play services that included Internet access, television and wireless solutions
America's first grid was constructed in New York almost 120 years ago, while the grid of the future must cope with a projected 30 percent increase in demand over the next 10 years. Meanwhile, the sense of urgency regarding the need to upgrade electricity networks has become more pronounced from the recent explosions at the Upper Big Branch coal mines of West Virginia and the Deep Horizon oil rig.
Exploiting new energy resources comes with personal and societal costs we shouldn't have to accept. By embracing energy efficiencies, the promise of making our electricity grid "smart" takes us beyond mere conservation. It recognizes a notion once touted by Amory Lovins at the World Science Forum in New York City back in 2006: "Technology is improving faster for efficient end-use than for energy supply."
Just as we learned that the development of the Internet wasn't only about faster access, smart grids won't only be about smart meters--the winners will be "smart" applications, vendors and solutions providers. Stay tuned for our next discussion on this topic and Maravedis' upcoming release of "Smart Grids and the New Utility" report.