Smart Grid Smart Grid Internally Created

suggest that the caller check his or her breakers or potential circuit shortages.

SMUD has work groups training customer service representatives on the software and developing new job descriptions for the managers.

Life After ARRA

Stimulus funds are fueling the smart grid's growth, but some industry observers say that without new incentives, activity will stop when those dollars dry up.

"In the current environment, unfortunately it is still not easy to make a business case for some of these implementations," said Zarco Sumic, vice president analyst for Gartner. "You really cannot justify the smart metering just on the operational benefits in the current regulatory setting. You need to be able to capture customer and environmental benefit, which the current regulatory framework doesn't allow utilities to do."

One approach is mandating price breaks for consumers with good conservation habits, according to Perry Wong, director of regional economics for the Milken Institute, a Santa Monica, Calif.-based economic think tank. Such a move would motivate residents to use smart-grid tools, which would motivate utilities to provide these tools, he said. The resulting drop in power consumption could reduce the need for costly new power-generation plants.

"You have to place a carrot in front of both the power operator and the household, so we need a policy that can entice both," Wong said.

He also thinks regulations need to encourage businesses and citizens to install renewable energy generators, like solar panels, and sell the excess power to the grid. A fast-growing crop of renewable energy sources among citizens would motivate utilities to connect to those sources with smart grids and buy the power, Wong said.

Power from these sources could save utilities from building new plants, which would be costlier than converting to smart grids and buying power from citizens. To motivate citizens to contribute renewable energy to the grid, however, regulations must stipulate a pricing structure for such transactions, Wong said. Without these regulations, citizens don't know how much they can earn from selling renewable energy back to utilities.

One more obstacle to renewable energy needs to disappear, added Wong. Many areas have zoning laws that make it tough to build renewable energy plants. Streamlining federal and state regulations would make building the facilities easier and less expensive.

Andy Opsahl  |  Features Editor