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Google, Tech Firms Weigh In on Smart Grid Funding

If you want to have your say on how more than $4 billion in stimulus funds will be spent on the smart grid, well, you’re too late. The Department of Energy’s comment period, which called for input on how it plans to allocate the grant funds, closed yesterday. But a variety of companies did manage to get their two cents in before the door shut, namely Google (s GOOG) and the GridWise Alliance, a trade group of tech firms.

The biggest issue of concern among the commenters was the same one that utilities, like Duke Energy (s duk) and New Jersey utility PSEG, have raised in recent weeks: The maximum cap of $20 million for project grants, they say, is far too low. On that issue Google says that the estimated maximum grant funding is “unreasonably low given the amount of funding provided by Congress and the mission of catalyzing the commercial buildout of a smart grid.” Google recommends eliminating references to grant sizes and ceilings in the final call for funding and tells the DOE to consider creating different funding categories for different-sized projects. The GridWise Alliance more specifically calls for a removal of the $20 million cap and creation of three “tiers of funding for smaller, medium, and large scale deployments.”

More interesting is Google’s comments on involving consumer applications and smart meter rollouts in the smart grid funding allocation. Google, which has been working on the online energy data tool PowerMeter and has taken a keen interest in keeping energy data in the hands of the user, writes:

Empowering electricity consumers with new information, tools and choices to manage energy should be a main driver of the Smart Grid Investment Grants. The NOI [Notice of Intent] merit review criteria do not reflect the important role that consumers in all customer classes will play in building a smarter grid.

Google wants the grant money to be specifically used to deploy and encourage consumers to buy smart grid technologies that empower them to manage their energy consumption. Google says that includes adding language to the funding draft that says “customers are eligible to apply for grants” and requiring most of the smart grid grant applications to detail how they will benefit consumers and how that benefit will be reported. Presumably Google is referring to all those new energy management tools coming onto the market this year (here’s 10 Energy Management Tools to Use).