Not too long ago, executives from IBM, Wal-Mart and General Electric might have seemed a motley crew of experts for a Congressional hearing about the electric grid and clean power. But yesterday the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming heard testimony from that very crew, plus the CEOs of gas turbine maker Florida Turbine Technologies and smart grid software developer Current Group, to learn about technology that can bring the national energy grid up to date and incorporate renewable energy.
At this point, the grid and energy game is more open than it has been for years. As Current Group CEO Tom Casey noted in his testimony, the legacy players hardly have a lock on the smart grid:
[I]t is highly likely neither the “Google” nor the “iPod” of home energy management has been invented yet and it is just as likely that it will not be invented by a traditional vendor of utility equipment.
Wal-Mart, which joined the nonprofit Demand Response Coordinating Committee three years ago, has been in high demand this week in Washington as a representative of big energy consumers. The mega-retailer weighed in with political all-stars at a forum on electricity transmission and energy policy through Lee Scott, chairman of Wal-Mart’s executive board (he retired from the CEO post earlier this month). “We know where we want to go,” Scott said, urging legislators at the forum to tackle the challenges of a smart grid buildout quickly. “We cannot wait until we have every absolute turn figured out [to] start the journey.”
Wal-Mart-sized power users aside, Current Group CEO Tom Casey testified yesterday that demand-side management can only go so far in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel imports. Swift and significant change will require more than smart meters for commercial and residential customers (which allow real-time energy pricing and better load management — read more in our Smart Grid FAQ) and in-home devices like programmable thermostats, Casey said. He suggested that lawmakers should think twice before being swept up in enthusiasm for residential metering technology. From Casey’s prepared testimony:
We believe that the case for using advanced meters, pricing and control systems for commercial and industrial customers who consume approximately 65% of overall electric power in the United States is strong, the approximate $40 billion required for residential metering may be better spent and produce significantly higher benefits by implementing a Smart Grid on the grid itself along with a more selective installation of advanced meters.