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Updated: Here’s an unusual combination: a venture capitalist that was formerly a VP at since-shuttered algae fuel startup GreenFuel has joined the Federal Communications Commission, where he will focus on the smart grid. According to peHUB, Nick Sinai, who was a principal at Tenaya Capital (Lehman […]

smartgridgeneralimageUpdated: Here’s an unusual combination: a venture capitalist that was formerly a VP at since-shuttered algae fuel startup GreenFuel has joined the Federal Communications Commission, where he will focus on the smart grid. According to peHUB, Nick Sinai, who was a principal at Tenaya Capital (Lehman Brothers Venture Partners) for a little over a year and at Polaris Ventures for three years before that (along with ethernet inventor Bob Metcalfe), will become the Energy and Environmental Director for the FCC, where he will lead “a team that will examine how broadband/communications infrastructure and policies can support our national energy and environmental goals, with an emphasis on the Smart Grid,” peHUB quoted him as writing in an email to friends.

The move is unusual, largely because so far, the FCC hasn’t really played a big role when it comes to standards or the implementation of the smart grid. The National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), even the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) have done a lot more high-profile work. But the FCC will have an important part to play when it comes to dictating the rules for smart grid services using wireless spectrum and broadband technologies, and perhaps Sinai’s addition signals greater future involvement by the commission.

Update: In response to my question about the FCC’s role in the smart grid, Sinai tells us via email that:

“Right now we are gathering data and information from experts that will help us develop a plan regarding broadband’s role in energy, so we’ll be able to better answer that question in a few months.”

In June the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) asked NIST to put together a group to study interference in unlicensed wireless spectrum (that which isn’t owned by any one group and is available for access by anyone that abides by the unlicensed rules) for smart grid applications. It’s a confusing topic, but it’s something with which the FCC has a great deal of experience.

In addition the FCC will be able to play a role when it comes to groups that are asking for a dedicated chunk of wireless spectrum for utilities and smart grid services. The Utilities Telecom Council, a trade group made up of utilities and grid vendors, has for years been advocating that utilities “must have access to dedicated radio spectrum.” It’s stepped up its efforts in recent months, calling for at least 30 MHz of spectrum.

The FCC, under newly appointed Chairman Julius Genachowski (read Om Malik’s awesome interview with Genachowski here), has been asked to set up a National Broadband Task Force to examine the state of broadband in the U.S. Sinai will be coordinating a workshop the FCC is holding later this month, on Aug. 25, that’s dedicated to exploring how broadband can contribute to the rollout of the smart grid. We’ve reached out to Sinai and are hoping to find out more about his role and the FCC’s plans (if any) for overseeing the deployment of the smart grid. (See update above)

  1. The Smart Grid is a grid that allows both the Utilities and the consumer to access, monitor and manage/control devices in the home that consume electricity.
    What has been missing in most Smart Grid discussions,
    (YTD)on the net, is the lack of REMOTE access and control provided to the consumer to allow them to better manage their usage. Without this all we have is the Utility being the one controlling the business.

    Remote Accces and Control Systems & Services (like that provided by In2Networks)is an example of how the Utilities can work with the Local Service providers (ILEC/CLEC/CATV) to allow access to and management of not only Meters but major appliances.

    Jim A.

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  2. [...] in its National Broadband Plan (the deadline of which was determined in the stimulus package). Back in August of 2009 the FCC hired Nick Sinai, a former VC at Tenaya Capital (Lehman Brothers Venture Partners) and Polaris Ventures, [...]

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  3. [...] the smart grid industry. On Thursday afternoon at the Cleantech Investor Summit, Nick Sinai, the FCC’s new Energy and Environmental Director, said that the FCC will make specific recommendations for how to bring broadband to the smart grid [...]

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