Top 10 Trends for the Smart Grid in 2010, Courtesy of Ray Bell

Predicting the next 12 months is both unavoidable and irresistible at this time of year, so here are my best guesses for what’s in store for the Smart Grid in 2010:

1) We’ll Mark Significant “Phase Two” Milestones: The first phase of the smart grid was about defining it — and it took nearly a decade for utilities (and vendors) to articulate a vision and blueprint for such a complex undertaking. Now that we’re there, it’s time to start making this vision concrete. Phase Two is about building out the smart grid, and I believe that 2010 will be a milestone year for progress in this regard. One important measure of our progress will be the number of newly connected homes and businesses by the end of next year. (By the way, Phase Three is about living in the smart grid –- and still in the distant future.)

2) A Year of Interfaces: Commercially available products with real standards and real interfaces will drive a meaningful start to Phase Two of the smart grid. That means utilities have realized that the “last mile” network of the grid is as important as the rest of its networked devices.

3) A Year of the Majors: Now that the Smart Grid is a reality, the world’s leading technology vendors are plunging into the fray. The smart grid’s enormous, complex challenges will be met with ingenious solutions from leading vendors in virtually every technology vertical. Look for new alliances among major networking companies, major telecoms providers, major chip suppliers, major retail household appliance manufacturers and major enterprise software vendors (as well as some unknown startups).

4) The Security Debate Will Be Behind Us: Shocking as that may sound, it’s true. Sure, security generated a lot of buzz (and anxiety) in 2009, but government-grade, standards-based security has won the day. The only questions that remain center around how and where security gets implemented within the smart grid. Stay tuned for lots of debate about how best to implement standards-based security. Granularity -– across devices, data, transport and systems — will play a key role in determining successful (or failed) smart grid architectures.

5) Disruption Is Bound to Happen: Yes, there are government stimulus awards being handed out, as well as contracts signed by putative (and emerging) market leaders. But which vendors are likely to succeed, and why? My prediction (setting aside my bias as CEO of an emerging vendor, Grid Net): Disruption will result from a combination of the “usual suspects” (large, well-known technology vendors) plus some new surprises (see Prediction #3).

6) Smart Grid Networks Will Continue to Be Built: Until recently, there was lots of talk, speculation, blogging, Powerpoint presentations and whiteboard diagrams — and little else. So who is actually building out a viable, scalable, secure smart grid network? Actual smart grid deployments -– while small -– are now growing (in stature, as well as volume of connected devices). As the smart grid transitions to Phase Two, the vendors that demonstrate real technology (that’s really working in real-world deployments) will have a huge advantage and overwhelming mindshare with utilities.

7) Distributed Generation and Load Shaping Will Be the New “Killer Apps”: In the mid-1990s, everyone used to ask what the Internet’s “killer app” (i.e., the application that would propel massive adoption and growth) was. Seems rather quaint from our 2009 vantage point. Yet keen minds involved with the Smart Grid are now asking a similar question. But first the following queries about distributed generation and load shaping need to be answered:

  1. How can utilities safely incorporate and distribute alternative energy?
  2. How will utilities manage and distribute all that new energy going back into the Smart Grid? Has two-way energy management been a heretofore ignored issue?
  3. How does this transform utilities’ value-add? Do they become energy brokers/marketplaces, as well as energy providers? Will deregulated markets help or hinder this process?
  4. How will consumers’ interests be protected? Who really wins?
  5. If harnessed properly, can we end our reliance on fossil fuels?

8) The Birth of Retail Energy Will Be Upon Us: With connected smart meters, utilities are on the cusp of developing more powerful ways to connect and communicate online with consumers. Moreover, utilities will need to listen closely to consumers, and work hard to deliver what consumers want. That’s exciting, but daunting. Our prediction: The birth of ‘retail energy’ will happen first in deregulated markets, where there exist meaningful incentives for both utilities and consumers to communicate and transact online.

9) The “Grand Slam” –- Energy, Voice, Video and Data — Will Emerge: Back at the start of the century, telecommunications companies described the “triple play” (voice, video, data) opportunity –- a convergence of all media into the home, provided by a single vendor, and streamed onto a variety of consumer devices (phones, TVs, computers, and more). The Smart Grid is the first opportunity to enable the “quadruple play,” and I believe it will be big –- very big! Quadruple play is made possible by the use of standards-based, scalable smart grid architectures that connect and leverage feature-rich devices and functionality, along with high-bandwidth (and low cost) 4G networking. We are already seeing both vendors and utilities evaluate the benefits of this “quadruple play” approach as they build out their smart grids.

10) Did We Already Mention the “Grand Slam”?

Ray Bell is the founder and CEO of Grid Net, a provider of open, interoperable, policy-based network management software and 4G wireless communications products for the Smart Grid.

Image courtesy of martcatnoc’s photostream Flickr Creative Commons.