Energy Stimulus is (just) a "Catalyst"
"Smart grid," President Obama said on David Letterman this week, "leads to long-term stability" for the U.S. "Clean energy," Obama added, "will put 100,00 people back to work."
"Huge potential," pitched the President, going directly to Americans. So what exactly is the state of smart grid and new power infrastructure. Electrification technology has been basically unchanged as a mechanical output for over 100 years. This week's GridWeek, sponsored by DOE and a host of corporate entities at the Reagan Building in Washington, DC, began to provide some answers.
There were three over-arching themes at this year's GridWeek 2009 event in Washington:
• Focus on Technology, R&D: The fact that President Obama mentioned smart grid on Letterman on Monday was compelling. GridWeek attendees on Tuesday morning had the sense the confluence of environmentalism and desire for energy security (independence from foreign oil), means their time has finally come. Democrats, Republicans and voters (consumers) support these initiatives. Apparently, it is cool to work for a power company or tech firm to build our grid!
• Consensus is Driving Clean Energy: GridWise Consortium - Guido Bartels, chairman, and global IBM chief, and Katherine Hamilton, president of the consortium, both told me the $4.8 billion in stimulus money for clean energy technology, energy grants, which is almost 50 times earlier Administration's investments, has placed laser-sharp focus on building energy solutions. "Brought everyone to the table," said the IBM'er.
• Consumer Education is Critical: whether we as Americans will adopt smart grid and pay small surcharges (power companies estimated $2.85 to $3.05 for clean energy and grid infrastructure), knowing the impact we have on carbon footprint seems the biggest challenge. DOE's Smart Grid Czar Eric Lightner offered 6 new DOE public service directories, a road show, and smart cities tour that will help educate the public.
GridWeek had over 1000 people this year from utilities, power generation or transmission, tech solutions. And from U.S. Government including Aneesh Chopra, the President's CTO, or State Government such as New Mexico's Energy Chief Tom Bowles. These two formed the keynote session and encouraged industry innovation. Public-private partnerships seem more likely.
CTO Aneesh Chopra wants practical applications from smart grid and to learn "what's possible." He left with 25 business cards and a promise to hear more about energy solutions. Power company execs joined the plenary and harped that there are not enough resource put against clean energy. Private sector will need to invest perhaps trillions to deliver full automation and energy efficiency upgrades.
"The Energy problem is a world problem," said Thomas Bowles from New Mexico. "We are collaborating with Japan." Japan announced a bold measure at the UN this week to reduce carbon emissions by 25% by 2020. The Washington Post called this declaration by Prime Minister Hatoyama, "The most ambitious commitment to curbing greenhouse gases by an economic power."
Bowles added that he promotes "Smart grid cities" in New Mexico. With national lab R&D from DOE's Sandia and Los Alamos labs, NM makes sense as a critical hub. In fact, Taos, the home of harmonic convergence, now has 40 percent smart grid in place. "On their own" initiative, said Bowles.. His goal is to: "Build out our green grid and export more energy. We already produce coal and gas but now have capacity in renewable" including solar and wind.
Stimulus is a "catalyst", said GE's Luke Clemente. Global thinking-and worldwide focus on energy solutions is pre-requisite.
When your government budget for Energy technology and power transmission is $100 million, an infusion of $4.8 billion in ARRA stimulus funding and energy grants seems like a huge leap. But industry and government experts alike called this a "down payment" on private sector investment. BAE Systems predicted stimulus money may be awarded as early as December and will "start being spent by March." However, with over 500 applications to review, DOE has its hands full to funnel money by early 2010. Plus, the dollars for clean energy technology come in several launches. Consider this a slow roll.
DOE's Lightner said "consumer education is our biggest challenge". The DOE will have a "smart grid clearinghouse" and road show demos of best in-home use of these new monitoring devices. Like so many things, market forces, consumer demand, and a little help from the Obama administration to prime the pump will determine the success of our national power supply.
Mike Smith is a political blogger. He tweeted the GridWeek event at smittypa. His company, Mike Smith Public Affairs, also works with clean energy companies in communications to help develop sustainable business.