How the Stimulus Funds Could Hinder A Smart Grid Buildout

powergrid5While there will be close to $4 billion in stimulus funds allocated for the smart grid buildout to utilities and tech vendors, some executives are worried that the stimulus funds could actually cause quite a few problems for smart grid technology vendors. Those were the thoughts of some execs at the AlwaysOn GoingGreen conference in Sausalito, Calif. on Wednesday.

Utilities have moved more slowly recently, waiting for the funds to be allocated (likely not until mid-October or early November) before doing deals with tech vendors, pointed out Cree Edwards, the CEO of smart meter data software maker eMeter. It has slowed the process down a bit, acknowledged Adrian Tuck, the CEO of energy management startup Tendril.

Frank Ramirez, CEO of thermal energy storage company Ice Energy took the worries a step further. He said that when the funds are allocated, he thought that lawsuits would follow after decisions were made. The big problem is the fact that all of these funds are being allocated by “well-meaning bureaucrats” tasked with choosing technology leaders, said Ramirez. Given the nascent nature of the technology and the size of the funds, it’s not something politicians are necessarily equipped to deal with.

Weighing through those applications and technologies will be no easy task for anyone. According to the New York Times, there were more than 140 proposals, requesting a total of $2.3 billion, for just the $615 million to fund smart grid demonstration projects. That’s not including all the other applications for the additional $3 billion.

Tendril’s Tuck pointed out, though, that the stimulus funds, have brought the idea of the need for a smarter grid to a lot more utilities and made the “pie” a whole lot bigger. The notion that the stimulus funds will spur a smart grid buildout has been the predominant feeling overall from the industry, in most interviews I’ve done. While I’m not sure if lawsuits will follow the decisions, the slowdown is clearly temporary and will be cleared up when decisions are made in the coming weeks. Now the overall question remains: Will the DOE make the right choices when doling out the money?