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DOE Unlocks $3.9B for Smart Grid: Here's How to Get Some

It’s one thing for the federal government to commit billions of dollars for smart grid technology and transmission infrastructure. But it’s quite another for the spigot to actually open with a clear set of criteria for applicants — and that’s where we are today. The Obama administration has just announced the final details for how to get in line for $3.9 billion in grants for smart grid technologies and demo projects funded as part of the stimulus package.

The smart grid buildout may be one of the biggest creators of wealth in the next decade — spawning, as smart grid analyst Jesse Berst has put it, “new Googles and Microsofts.” (s GOOG) (s MSFT) These grants could go a long way to determine which companies come away with the biggest share.

The first deadline is coming up on July 16, so looks like it will be a busy summer. The Department of Energy plans to provide an FAQ tomorrow, but here are some key points from our first run through the solicitation:

Smart Grid Investment Grant Program
The $3.4 billion for this program will be distributed in grants of up to $2 million. There are two separate categories, however, for smaller vs. larger projects. Smaller projects, which can get grants in the range of $300,000 to $20 million are slated to get about 40 percent of the total funds (this could change, depending on who applies), and the rest is supposed to go to larger projects ($20 million and up). For each grant, awardees will have to come up with matching funds.

According to the DOE’s announcement, funding is available for six different topic areas, including equipment manufacturing, customer systems, advanced metering infrastructure, electric distribution and transmission systems, as well as integrated or crosscutting systems. Put simply, there’s cash for projects ranging from modifying buildings to purchasing software to manufacturing smart appliances to implementing dynamic pricing schemes — as long as they enable two-way flow of both electric power and data between power companies and consumers.

All projects are expected to “recognize and address” interoperability and have measurable impacts. Time, the DOE emphasizes, is of the essence. Projects can take no more than three years, and preference will be given to those with shorter time frames. The clock is already ticking, with the final deadline for the first round coming up in August. (There are also November 2009 and March 2010 rounds.) The letter of intent for the first round is due July 16.

You can dig into the full Funding Opportunity Announcement here, and also find contact information for people at the DOE who can answer specific questions.

Smart Grid Demonstration Program
This program is a better bet for companies with emerging technologies — grants can be used to “prove technical, operational and business-model feasibility.” Unlike the larger SDIG program, grants for demo projects¬† can be used to cover up to 20 percent of¬† “the costs of distributed energy and storage equipment.” Grants are primarily intended, however, to demonstrate digital technologies for planning and operating the grid. Pre-applications are due August 26. You can find the full Funding Opportunity Announcement and more details here.

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