General Motors plans to work with San Francisco and other cities to roll out its much-touted Chevy Volt, a plug-in hybrid-electric car that is scheduled for market launch next year.
Now, the cities are not in the business of selling cars. But they can make it easier for a company to do business through their permitting and other policy-making power. Plus, large cities often own large fleets of cars, making them good potential customers.
For companies that want to popularize electric cars of all kinds, seeking a municipal or state blessing is a good approach. Seeking help from cities that already have committed to popularizing electric cars is an even smarter -- and obvious -- strategy.
Last November, San Francisco and other Bay Area cities announced their plans to work with the Palo Alto, Calif.-based Better Place, which aims to set up a network of electric-car charging and batter-swapping stations.
Better Place executives have traveled the world seeking national and regional government support for its business plan, which in some cases involves working with the Nissan-Renault Alliance to bring electric cars to places where Better Place plans to deploy its networks.
Another Silicon Valley startup, Coulomb Technologies, has begun selling and installing electric-car charging devices in California. The company also is selling subscription services to use those charging stations.
GM said it also is working with utilities to make sure proper charging networks would be available to service its new electric cars.
Smart grid-related companies are getting up into each other’s business.
That’s the gist of the news coming out of the DistribuTech conference in San Diego on Tuesday morning. The business of the “smart grid???— that is, building two-way communications systems between utilities and their customers to measure and control power use — involves a lot of moving parts. Equipment, communications and software providers are forming increasingly tangled webs of partnerships and competitive stances.
Such deals were already coming out in advance of the conference (see DistribuTech Puts Spotlight on Smart Grid). Tuesday morning saw a few more emerge.
One was a deal between smart grid software developer Gridpoint and home control system maker Control4. The two companies said they would integrate Control4’s home energy manager, meant to give homeowners information and automated control over their power use, with Gridpoint’s software that integrates such systems with utilities.
Control4 is already working with GE Home Technologies, and Gridpoint is part of Xcel Energy’s SmartGridCity initiative in Boulder, Colo., which is a large-scale pilot project meant to show how a smart grid-connected community will work.
Software to help utilities manage the flood of data coming from millions of smart meters being deployed is one area that’s seen a lot of growth. On Monday, smart grid data management software maker eMeter landed a new deal with Texas utility CenterPoint Energy (NYSE: CNP), adding to its list of utilities that are using the San Mateo, Calif.-based startup’s software for more than 24 million smart meters (see EMeter: Data-Keeper for the Smart Grid).
On Tuesday, fellow smart grid data management software maker Ecologic Analytics announced it had also landed a deal with its own Texas utility, Oncor, to support its rollout of more than 3 million smart meters through 2012. Ecologic Analytics has a list of deals with utilities, including a big one with Pacific Gas & Electric Co.
The melding of different communications technologies for smart grid applications was also on the DistribuTech agenda Tuesday, with leading smart meter maker Itron (NSDQ: ITRI) announcing a partnership with business wireless networking company Digi International (NSDQ: DGII).
Digi makes networking technology that connects electronic devices via Ethernet, WiFi and cellular networks, which will give Itron enhanced abilities to connect capacitor banks, metering products and other in-grid devices in a communications network, the companies said.
Itron earlier said it would work with home energy monitoring and display maker Tendril to license Tendril’s software for loading into Itron’s hardware — a deal the Boulder, Colo.-based startup has made available to a number of smart meter makers (see Tendril Targets Meter Makers).
While Itron and other meter makers ink deals with networking and software companies, others are moving into new equipment. SmartSynch, which installs its cellular networks communications technology in smart meters from GE, Elster, Itron and others, announced Tuesday that it’s coming out with its own piece of Internet protocol (IP)-addressable equipment to link to other communications networks.
SmartSynch’s new Direct Control eXternal device promises to deliver a host of smart grid solutions, including controlling homeowners back-up generators during peak power demand times and monitor steam levels under city streets.
Expect more of these kinds of announcements to emerge as DistribuTech rolls on. After all, with smart grid companies becoming the favorite of green VC investment, and billions of dollars of federal stimulus aimed at the industry, there’s plenty of room for cooperation and competition alike (see Draft Stimulus Plan Has Billions for Smart Grid, For 2009, It's All About Smart Grid and Storage and Acquisitions in Smart Grid: Get Used to It).