Indian Wells, Calif. -- Earlier this week, a number of executives and investors gathered at The Networked Grid, a conference sponsored by Greentech Media, to discuss the future of the grid and the technological and regulatory changes that await us all.
They also passed rumors between each other in the hallway during coffee breaks. Here are some of the things we heard:
-- Smart meter specialist Elster is furiously laying the groundwork for an initial public offering. Expect to see some news before the 4th of July. The confirmation on this is a bit loose, but Elster has been working toward an IPO since last year.
--PowerGenix, which makes zinc rechargeable batteries, has begun to move into the market for large-scale energy storage. PowerGenix has made batteries for the consumer market, a tough one to crack, and batteries for converting hybrids to plug-in hybrids, a nonexistent market. Persistent storage holds far more promise and works well with PowerGenix's technology. The batteries could be used to shave peaks at commercial buildings on in tandem with solar panels. It also shows flexibility on the part of CEO Dan Squiller.
--A couple of startups are concocting Bluetooth headsets and earbuds powered by small solar panels. Thus, if you make calls outside, you can charge your battery. (Tilting your head may or may not be required.) The interesting technology challenge lies in synchronizing the variable power coming from the sun with the battery charger.
--As part of its push into smart grid, Cisco will expand its consulting services. IBM has morphed into a consulting group. Hewlett Packard expanded with its purchase of EDS. It stands to reason that one of the other big tech giants would do something similar.
--The debate over whether utilities should build and manage their own networks or rely on public commercial networks from AT&T was one of the major topics at the conference. SmartSynch CEO Stephen Johnston made his case that it will be cheaper in the long run to rely on public networks. Critics, though, said these efforts could be stymied by regulatory issues. Utilities that build their own networks can ultimately put the cost of it on consumers because it is a capital expense that will justify a rate increase. Leasing or buying capacity from AT&T is an operating expense, which will cut into their budgets.
SmartSynch will try to get the regulation changed, but, as one person said, "it won't happen in the next two weeks."
--Don't call it demand response. The new word of choice for the industry is demand management, according to, among others, Phil Davis, senior manager of the demand response resource center at Schneider Electric. More language news: the slang word of the week is "automagically."
--On-Ramp Wireless has a new version of its chipset for its Ultra-Link Processing (ULP) platform for meters and grid equipment. ULP signals have a five-mile range, do not get obstructed by steel or concrete (the company put one under a manhole cover and could still maintain signal connections for two miles), and can carry enough data to provide remote monitoring or demand response services, according to CEO Joaquin Silva. It hopes one day to license it, like Qualcomm does.
The picture shows On-Ramp's current and coming chipset. The current chipset, the big one, costs around $80 to $90. The smaller one integrates the components of the first one into a smaller unit. It will cost around $40 to $50, according to CEO (and hand model) Silva.