Smart grid delays in the USA - 14 Oct 2009

While in Washington, walking over the Mall, I visited an extraordinarily interesting display of 20 full-scale solar houses, built by universities from four countries. They were all totally different in design, but all powered by the sun. Together they formed a ‘street' so it was possible to really get the impression of a cohesive suburban situation.

Enormous interest was being shown in the display - there was a long queue in front of each building.

What was missing from my perspective was a smart grid to bring it all together, and to also bring in the other aspects of smart meters, e-cars, etc. But that, of course, was not the purpose of this project, which was coordinated organised and sponsored by the Department of Energy (DoE), the same department that is showing international leadership in smart grids.

But according to some of the government people I spoke to in Washington all is not well with the $20 billion large-scale smart grid approach. There are very significant delays, basically because the development of smart grids is a larger task than the electricity utilities can handle. There is also a lack of understanding and willingness by them to investigate how to best form partnerships with the rest of the industry.

This has led to some frustration on the part of the IT industry, which has now indicated that it wants to move on, with or without the electricity industry.

There are plans for an Internet-based smart grid that could bypass the electricity industry. Google is one of the leaders in this development but companies such as AT&T are also actively pursuing such an alternative.

It will be interesting to see how this works out in the USA - and it might also be a warning for the Australian smart grid/smart city project.

Paul Budde

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