Thursday, March 4, 2010

SmartGridCity Competition: Infrastructure vs. Applications

You've got to deploy new meters and AMI infrastructure just to get in the Smart Grid game. But what if the costs go beyond your projections and you've agitated your rate payers well before delivering to them pledged new benefits and capabilities? At this point you're ready to buy or build the customer-side software applications that can begin to deliver on the many and several promises of the Smart Grid, but your hands are tied by tightening budgetary strings. As energy journalist Stephen Monroe puts it:
There is plenty of precedent for utility-scale subsidization of such "behind the meter" costs as programmable thermostats, compact fluorescent bulbs and high-efficiency furnaces. But with sunk costs for SmartGridCity already in the thousands of dollars per meter, regulators and ratepayers this year must decide how much more the system can bear before the project crosses from a forward-looking investment to one of never-present value.
Two risks come to mind in considering Boulder's current dilemma. The first is that the AMI/Smart Grid build out falters due to loss of regulator and ratepayer confidence. We need these advanced capabilities badly and failure to deploy the new grid, and its enabling applications, is unacceptable ... but possible, if we don't learn and adapt from the experiences of first movers.

The second risk is that in situations of substantial financial stress, security requirements are sometimes tossed out the window. Whether buying or building, deploying secure applications takes time and money, and the impulse to "deploy now and secure later" will be very strong.

To do so would be to put off failure for another day, in another form. Winning hearts and minds via powerful applications is a winning formula for the Smart Gird. Unless its merely prologue for widespread disappointment or anger from breaches involving loss of private data and/or system outages.

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