Parks Associates Blog

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Smart Roads. Smart Bridges. Smart Grids.

FEBRUARY 17, 2009
Smart Roads. Smart Bridges. Smart Grids.
If we are going to spend billions of dollars to fix our ailing infrastructure, let's make sure we do it right. Here are the technologies to make that happen.


It's time the U.S. got a lot smarter.
Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page R1

Get Smart… I couldn’t help but think of the Mel Brooks and Buck Henry show starring Don Adams & Barbara Feldon back in the late 60’s. Hopefully the U.S. will get a lot smarter than the technology-enabled characters in this sitcom. Michael Totty’s February 17, 2008 article in the Wall Street Journal certainly makes a case for the likelihood that the U.S. will get much smarter due to technology advances, economic necessity, consumer desires, and government incentives.

The part about “Smart Grids” caught our attention at Parks Associates. We are preparing to launch a major multi-client project to assess the market for digital systems and services used to monitor, control and manage electric energy in the home. The first step to building a more intelligent electricity distribution network (a.k.a. Smart Grid) is the deployment of smart meters which are digital meters capable of processing and reporting usage data to providers and households via two-way communication between meters and utility offices. Smart meters with the proper user interfaces can enable consumers to make informed decisions in response to real-time household power consumption data.

Data …enter Google. Google wants to build the platform for collecting, managing, and analyzing home energy information. It is one of the more visible companies developing ways to control the demand for electric power as an alternative to building more power generation plants. It recently announced that it has developed a free Web service called PowerMeter that enables consumers to track and, with the proper devices, control energy use. As I understand it, PowerMeter is still in Beta testing and the company is counting on others to build devices to feed data into their PowerMeter technology.

Back to smart meters. Smart meters are a key enabler of Google’s technology and the company has referred to expected deployments of 40 million or so smart meters as mentioned in a White House document entitled: The American Reinvestment and Recovery Plan – By the Numbers. That’s quite different from Parks Associates’ current smart meter forecast which we published on February 10, 2008, the same day Google announced PowerMeter. (See Figure)

Several reporters questioned our rationale for such a modest forecast for smart meters. Why the discrepancy? Did we miss something? We don’t think so, but we are going to be investigating the facts behind deployment plans in depth over the next couple of months. Forecasting the installation of smart meters in the residential market requires consideration of several factors beyond summing up proposed deployments:

• Ability of utilities to fund deployment of smart meters and the necessary AMI infrastructure
• The willingness of local governing bodies, e.g., public utility commissions (PUCs), to approve rate structures that make smart meters attractive to consumers and the utilities
• The utilities’ willingness to commit to long-term deployments

The economic stimulus plan will encourage a more rapid development of a smart grid, but many questions remain to be answered about just how fast this will happen. No timetable was given for the deployment of the 40 million meters mentioned. Our forecast is based on a tally of deployment announcements along with estimates of the portion going into residential versus commercial accounts. In addition, we did take judgment on some plans due to where they were in the regulatory approval process. Therefore, we believe we have a solid rationale for our forecast.

However, we expect this forecast to change. Companies such as Google, with the ability to build market awareness, can help accelerate adoption of systems and services to manage and control energy consumption. In fact, we think that there are numerous market opportunities in residential energy management that don’t require smart meters or an advanced metering infrastructure (AMI). We will be exploring the entire spectrum of opportunities in our project entitled Residential Energy Management – Opportunities for Digital Systems and Services which is designed to help our clients Get Smart.

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