It’s been a busy post-Thanksgiving news week for greentech so far, but here are a few stories that are worth adding to the pile. First off, General Electric’s new smart-grid-as-a-service offering landed its second client Monday, when the Leesburg, Fla. city council approved a $20 million deal for GE to install and operate a smart grid for its municipal utility.
The project, partly funded by a $10 million Department of Energy grant, is expected to save about $15 million in power costs over the next 20 years. The first step -- installing smart meters at each customer’s home -- will start in March.
GE is relying on lots of smaller utilities signing up for its smart grid service, which it launched in November with Norcross, Ga.’s city utility. The idea is to centralize back-end IT and project management, give utilities a list of products and functions they’d like to buy, and then charge them by the month for doing it.
That’s a marked contrast from the multimillion-dollar, project-by-project style the smart grid has taken so far. Big utilities actually have an incentive to install and own their own smart grid gear, since they get to include capital expenses in rate increases. But GE is betting that thousands of smaller, more cash-constrained U.S. utilities would prefer a services approach.
It isn’t alone in this supposition. Smart grid as a service may well be the buzzword of 2012. Contenders to the title include SAIC's smart metering service offering, IBM’s smarter cities platform and Lockheed Martin’s demand response platform for electric co-ops. It may take awhile for the economies-of-scale business model to build up steam, however. Utilities flush with stimulus cash for the past two years may be tightening their belts.
Even so, utilities’ slow and steady spending on smart grid is a lot more stable than the ups and downs of the renewable energy sector. This week has seen an onslaught of lobbying fromsolar wind, geothermal and biomass companies, pleading with Congress not to let the stimulus-era Section 1603 program expire -- and warning of a pretty serious downturn for clean energy if it does.
Since 2009, Sect. 1603 has allowed renewable power projects to claim immediate cash grants in lieu of the tax credits that normally fund their development. The recession killed the financial sector’s appetite for tax credits, so turning credits into cash offered a vital lifeline for projects that would otherwise have found few backers. But the Republican shutdown in Congress has dimmed hopes for a renewal of the program, along with those of a host of green bills awaiting consideration.
Sect. 1603 has passed out about $9.6 billion in the past two years, but the U.S. Partnership for Renewable Energy Finance reports that losing it could slash energy project financing by 52 percent in 2012. Keeping it, on the other hand, could lead to such wonders as 37,934 new solar jobs and 500 megawatts of new solar power next year, according to the admittedly self-interested Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).
In other news, Earth2Tech has uncovered a lawsuit pitting home energy efficiency startup Opower against rival Efficiency 2.0 over, of all things, the layout of the paper energy reports both companies send to homeowners.
Arlington, Va.-based Opower, a darling in the emerging field of behavior modification for energy efficiency, says that its New York City-based rival stole Opower’s report format and is using it to gain a competitive advantage. Efficiency 2.0 says it reproduced Opower’s format only as part of a Stanford University-backed study to test it against other styles of customer energy reports in a pilot program, and has no intention of using it with its own customers.
Opower registered its Home Energy Report for copyright in 2009, and places great store on its ability to connect with customers in a way it says the mass of startups in the home energy management space don’t do. Its lawsuit demands that Efficiency 2.0 destroy all the Opower copies it has. Of course, with 19 million reports printed by Opower and delivered to utility customers so far, you’d think anyone who wanted to could find one pretty easily.
Finally, U.S. demand response leader EnerNOC picked up another 40 megawatts of customer load on Tuesday, signing up Pennsylvania utility Duquesne Light. The Boston-based company had just over 7,000 megawatts under management as of Sept. 30, making it the single largest demand response provider in the country. But uncertainty over a conflict on pricing with its key customer, mid-Atlantic grid operator PJM, continues to dog the company.