Jockeying will be the name of the game for smart grid companies over the next several months as funding from the economic stimulus package rolls out to state and federal agencies. As Bloomberg notes this morning, now that the $787 billion has been divvied up across U.S. industries, Round 2 of lobbying begins. Bloomberg calls out Xcel Energy, PG&E, Cisco and IBM as top rivals, but the race is on for the gamut of industry players (described in more detail in our smart grid FAQ) — from smart meter firms like Landis and Gyr and SmartSynch, to network companies such as Gridpoint and Tendril, to utilities like Southern California Edison and Sempra.
With most legislation, lobbyists work to get spending written into a bill and then move on to the next initiative. Steve Ellis, VP for the group Taxpayers for Common Sense, tells Bloomberg that the stimulus is different: “Now they get paid to make their project get funded.” That’s because lawmakers have left the process for doling out most funds fairly open — a result of Congress’s move to limit fights over earmarks by giving agencies dollars for general initiatives.
It will be up to the Department of Energy, for example, to interpret “a small allocation for innovative concepts for beneficial CO2 reuse,” a very broad award that the algae-based bioreactor industry worked hard to get into the bill, but one that comes without a guarantee that the resulting funds will go to the companies that lobbied for it. The field remains especially open for smart grid projects, as Bloomberg explains:
Because no one has built a smart grid yet, no one is sure how it will work or what technologies will win out. The stimulus package is giving companies a national stage on which to tout their ideas and get a leg up on the competition.
Of course, smart grid companies haven’t waited for the Presidential green light to position themselves for funds. General Electric started gunning its engine over Super Bowl weekend, launching a multimillion ad campaign to get its smart grid cred on the national radar. And then there’s Google, which unveiled plans to develop a web-based energy data tool called PowerMeter earlier this month, shaking the smart grid industry with questions about whether the company will be a competitor or a partner. For the long run, we have to wonder who would own the relationship with customers in a Google smart grid world — but for now, the looming question is who’s getting the money?
The Office of Management and Budget has released a preliminary implementation plan for the stimulus package. We’ll be sorting through that and other details as they emerge to keep you posted on how to get in the running for funds.