The GridWise Alliance and the United States Department of Energy are co-hosting the inaugural GridWise Global Forum in the nation's capital Tuesday, September 21st through Thursday, September 23rd. We thought it an opportune time to sit down with Mr. Bartels, the GridWise Alliance chairman, to get his thoughts on next week's conference and the smart grid industry as a whole.

What is the primary theme of this year's conference?

According to Bartels, it's all about "international collaboration" around a few "big-ticket items" that affect the global community. Economic growth, energy independence, security and climate change are all global issues, and Mr. Bartels sees these as a few of the "big-ticket items" that the smart grid underpins, eventually emerging as the "ultimate enabler" of positive change.

Beyond even the scope of this conference, Bartels sees the need to set up a global federation for national smart grid industry groups to collaborate, but observes that "getting such an ecosystem together in advance of such a massive transformation is not an easy task."

In the past, the group has collaborated with Clasma/GridWeek to host a similar event. Why the departure from previous years' plan? Why did you decide instead to partner with the DOE to create a new conference?

Bartels said that the U.S. Department of Energy and the GridWise Alliance "made a very conscious decision to start a different event." With GridWeek becoming more commercial and placing its focus on scaling up an exposition, the aim of the GridWise Global Forum is to focus on "thought leadership" and a "global agenda." In order to do this effectively, they felt it was not necessary to link the event to an expo like GridWeek. In some ways, Mr. Bartels regards the GridWise Global Forum as the "Davos/WEF of the smart grid."

What are a few of the top industry and/or technology trends you foresee over the next two years?

Largely in agreement with GTM Research on two key points, Bartels believes that distribution automation (DA) is an "enormous open space for opportunity," noting that many international utilities have started with DA and not AMI. Another area of interest is EVs. Bartels believes that EVs will be "interesting, but the industry may still struggle given the adoption rate question." He believes the country "needs to build up the view now."

Where is the industry today, relative to one year ago, and what progress has been made?

Bartels contends that although the industry seems to have been moving pretty rapidly over the past year, we are "only at the beginning"; he believes we will soon see a "drastic modernization of the electric system." And although the industry has made positive strides forward, we need to do better job of evolving the discussion around "what smart grid is and why it's important."

After $4.5 billion in smart grid stimulus, what needs to happen next in terms of national policy?

Bartels wants to see more appearances by Obama on David Letterman talking national energy policy and specifically mentioning the term 'smart grid.' With the smart grid being the "critical platform for big-ticket items" like economic growth, climate change, energy independence and a more reliable energy supply, Bartels makes the case that energy transformation is more important than healthcare. If not more important, he believes that the U.S. "should have at least as much focus here as with healthcare. There are countries outside the U.S. that see this infrastructure vision better than the U.S. does in terms of national competitiveness."

What are a few of the more significant smart grid deployment success stories, in your opinion?

"First off, in the U.S., there have been strong deployments and great progress in California, Texas and on the East coast, much of which is being supported by stimulus funds."  In Australia, the government has the smart grid/smart cities project where they are investing "$100 million across 5 cities located in and around Sydney."  In countries like China, Japan and Korea, they are "moving ahead in distribution automation and also with ultra high voltage transmission, and these countries are now achieving very high reliability numbers."  And in Europe, we have already seen large metering projects "such as the one undertaken by ENEL in Italy." Bartels also observes that in "Scandinavian countries and the U.K." there has been a lot of recent activity pertaining to smart grid deployment.

Do you see the pricing of climate change in retail electric rates, as Ofgem is now trying to do in the U.K., as an increasing trend? How do you expect to see these large smart grid CAPEX projects getting funded? 

"It's interesting, because today the running joke is that if you went to your company's CEO and said, 'Hey, I discovered a very good investment to enable us to sell less to our clients,' well, that would likely be your last day on the job." Bartels points out that this is akin to the framework within which a large part of the utility industry operates today in regards to investments in smart grid and energy efficiency.  He says we "need to find a way for the utilities to be rewarded, or we are leaving something very important off the table."  A second point he offered is that utilities around the world are already investing billions upon billions in their infrastructure on an annual basis, and now, "We need to ensure that these funds are going to new technologies and applications, and not being spent as they have in the past on legacy products." 

Given the recent M&A activity and general market momentum, what do you see ahead for the vendor community in terms of consolidation, partnership, room for new startups, etc.?

According to Bartels, "No company can do soup-to-nuts in the smart grid, and the need for collaboration is critical." Given the current state of the industry, there is "enormous competition for thought leadership." Bartels believes that many companies in the industry need to do a better job in representing what their solution provides and what it does not. In his eyes, the industry will "absolutely see more M&A activity," especially as more and more IT vendors and traditional electric power equipment vendors come together in the market. Although he sees M&A increasing, it doesn't mean there won't be room for startups, which will be spurred largely by "applications we cannot yet envision."


As the conference's Official Interactive Media Partner, Greentech Media has teamed up with the GridWise Global Forum to broadcast select conference sessions live on the Greentech Media website.

Greentech Media will be broadcasting three sessions (one from each day of the conference) live over our website. The sessions that will be broadcast live are listed below (all times are Eastern Standard Time).

1. Tuesday, September 21st, 1:30pm - 3:00pm: Energizing Leadership: Lessons for all Nations

2. Wednesday, September 22nd, 8:00am - 9:30am: Engaging the Consumer

3. Thursday, September 23rd, 2:15pm - 3:30pm: Innovating for the Future

In addition to broadcasting these live sessions, Greentech Media staff will be at the conference in full force for the duration of the event, holding meetings, sharing our latest market research (scheduled to be published on Monday, September 20th), covering conference news, and drinking champagne at the Australian Embassy party. David Leeds, GTM Research's smart grid analyst, will be moderating a session on Thursday titled Meeting Climate Goals, which will focus on the relationship between smart grid deployments and a reduction in greenhouse gases.