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2012: Questions on the road ahead to the smart grid

Last week I shared my smart grid predictions for 2012. But also, as the new year turns, I’m pondering these important questions…

1. What will be the biggest driver for cleantech/smart grid in 2012?

I think this year, technology will drive us forward to Smart Grid 2.0. As I mentioned in my predictions, data analytics software will help utilities put to good use the data now pouring in from over 150 million installed smart meters globally.

We’ll also see consumers getting new options for dynamic pricing, detailed usage information options, and prepayment from upgraded utility IT systems. Also, consumers will be able to purchase exciting new energy management devices, especially smart thermostats.

2. How will political events shape the cleantech and sustainability industry in 2012?

The U.S. elections will ensure that no major federal energy policy bills will be passed. However, the Electric Consumer Right to Know Act (S. 1029, which would allow consumers to get free online to their own data) and the White House Green Button Initiative could allow for major progress. Green Button is already live for the three large California utilities, PG&E, SDG&E, and SCE. The bill’s prospects are less certain, but a small chance of passage remains.

The U.S. and many countries will have to deal with the waste of wind energy (huge curtailment orders by market operators) caused by the combination of lack of energy storage, lack of demand response, and intermittency of wind.

The issue of curtailed wind and solar is a potential political time bomb. Both resources have very strong support from the public, and people are unlikely to respond favorably to wind and solar generators being switched off while coal and nuclear plants continue to operate.

2. What did I learn in 2011?

My biggest lesson was that patience, persistence, and hard work do pay off — specifically regarding the recent Siemens purchase of eMeter.

But this lesson also applies to working with all smart grid players: utilities, policymakers, regulators, and partner companies. As an industry, we fell short in not creating a common vision of the smart grid’s consumer benefits — and for not communicating those benefits effectively to consumers.

3. What’s my biggest professional goal for 2012?

I’d like to help correct the shortfall I just noted above. My goal is to work with all of my colleagues in the smart grid industry toward a common vision of smart grid consumer benefits. Used together, energy usage information, time-based pricing options and automated “set and forget” devices help consumers save energy, cut peak demand, save money, reduce emissions, improve reliability, make better use of wind and solar resources, and promote electric vehicle adoption.

…Finally, looking ahead to 2012, I’d offer this timeless sentiment, which is especially appropriate for the renewable energy and smart grid industries:

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
     – From an Irish Blessing