SGIG winners: Little guys, unmetered underdogs, non-utility small fries

H. Christine Richards | Oct 28, 2009


Although I am not one who generally digs federal government funding of company projects (if it makes business sense, utilities would be all over it without government intervention, would they not? (I know, I know about PUCs, but again if made so much sense, how could PUCs refuse?)). Although when a utility could get 50 percent off a $400 million project, you can’t blame the utility for wanting to get the discount (hey, you know you would be ecstatic even if Starbucks offered 50 percent off your favorite $6 coffee-related addiction). And yesterday, we found out the long-anticipated list of who would be getting the valuable discount coupons (i.e., Smart Grid Investment Grant (SGIG)) on their smart grid project.
Huge—err, in a world of trillion dollar packages, perhaps I should say somewhat large—sums of money will be doled out to some big companies, but I thought I would take a moment to celebrate the little guys, the unmetered underdogs and the non-utility small fries of the smart grid world who won with the announcement yesterday.
First of all, I was pleased to see the number of cooperatives (i.e., little guys) that received funding. Of course, there are some sizeable coops out there, but high-profile projects like at Xcel Energy, FPL and Baltimore Gas and Electric, always seem to dominant the headlines. Aside from a few more vocal coops like Bluebonnet, coops kind of get left in the smart grid publicity dust. From South Kentucky Rural Electric Cooperative Corporation to Sioux Valley Southwestern Electric Cooperative, these winning projects will hopefully help other companies realize that it is not just a few humongous utilities testing a few technologies. There are a variety of utilities looking at and implementing smart projects.
I am also happy to see the unmetered underdogs get some of the smart grid love. In fact, it made me do a little happy dance (or at least made me think about it). Okay, I know that ISOs/RTOs, with their immense influence over electricity markets, are hardly underdogs in general. But from the smart grid perspective, the industry has just focused so much on the meter and not the broader electricity network. The transmission network just has so much impact, it seems like it deserves more attention. For example, if my meter or local network goes down, I may not be able to run my two laptops, my stereo, the cat feeder and the darn oven light clock will start flashing. However, if a transmission line goes down, it can knock out power to millions of people—and that will include many more people whose lives depend on access to electricity (I could probably live without two laptops for at least an hour or so). Smarter transmission investment is something we have covered a lot in Intelligent Utility magazine, so I am happy to see it catch on. Dare I say we started the smart transmission trend? No, but again congratulations to the ISOs/RTOs.   
Lastly, I was excited about winning companies that don’t directly control the delivery of power to your home. Like Honeywell and Whirlpool. And my favorite, M2M Communications, who will use the grant to install smart grid-compatible irrigation load control systems to help reduce peak electric demand. These companies serve as a reminder that it is not just about the utility in a smarter grid and more intelligent utility. There are so many other groups involved in the smart efforts. 
Now that at least the grants are announced, it will be fun (yes, I am a utility nerd, okay) not just to see the dollars and technologies roll out, but to track the changes of people—both energy consumers and producers—public policy, business processes, and even the definition of a utility company, as these SGIG efforts move forward.  
Thanks for reading!

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