Friday, April 24, 2009
Smart grid opportunities for software developers
Smart grid technology may have many hurdles to overcome before it's widely adopted by consumers and utilities, but that just means the opportunities for making money (and losing it) in the space are huge for today's software developers and IT professionals, agreed panelists at yesterday's InnoTech smart grid presentation in Portland. The panel steered away from hype, however, challenging the notion that the smart grid is the next Internet revolution because the benefits haven't yet been proven.
Here are the list of top business opportunities and challenges for smart grid technology I pulled from the panel:
- Software companies should work with utilities to use existing technologies, or a combination of technologies, to create new tools for managing the grid, said Patrick Mazza from Climate Solutions. This is also the best way for software companies to tap into the smart grid stimulus funding, since the U.S. Department of Energy will distribute most of it through utilities, he said.
- Smart meters only scratch the surface of the smart grid, said Steve Jennings from BPL Global, who said the best approach is to develop a platform that addresses applications across the grid, from the power plant to the home. Interoperability is the key to developing technologies that work across the spectrum of the smart grid.
- Smart grid developers have yet to find the killer app, the feature that fuels adoption. Jeff Hammarlund, who teaches the smart grid graduate seminar at Portland State University, thinks that killer app will be smart appliances but utilities must adopt variable rate schedules based on time-of-day electricity use before any consumer application can be successful.
- Steve Blaine from CH2M Hill was the lone dissenter in the group, arguing that paying billions to upgrade the grid with digital communications may not have any real benefit for consumers. He thinks the real opportunity lies in energy storage. Why build a smart grid to manage renewable power production, for example, when all you need is the ability to store energy that's generated off-peak?