The network already largely exists. That's one of the primary reasons that the Tennessee Valley Authority selected SmartSynch to serve as the communications backbone in its renewable program.

The TVA and its 156 electricity distributors are effectively setting up a German-style feed-in tariff in the middle of the country. Under the Generation Partners program, the TVA -- via distributors -- will buy thesolarand other renewable power generated by customers in its service territories. (The TVA produces electricity which is then distributed and sold through regional co-operatives and utilities.) The TVA will then pay the retail price of electricity for the power, around nine cents per kilowatt hour, plus 12 cents per kilowatt hour for solar and 3 cents per kilowatt hour for other types of power. TVA's service area also happens to be one of the areas in the country where small hydro has its adherents.

Keeping the accounting straight is where SmartSynch comes in. The company will provide technology for smart meters and will also host the applications necessary for tracking and storing data on power production and delivery.

The smart meters will be connected to the grid through existing cellular networks. AT&T is SmartSynch's main carrier, but it also works with pretty much any system that offers cell towers. Leveraging the cellular players already in operation in an area reduces the amount of equipment that needs to be erected in the field.

"We will put a smart meter out there and they can get started immediately," said Stephen Johnston, CEO. "With a proprietary network, it would be three years before you could do something."

I wonder who he was referring to? No names spring to mind yet.

The TVA and its partners serve around nine million customers across seven states.

Johnston also gave an update on the company's GridRouter, a multi-protocol, modular communications box for linking utilities to substations and their customers.

"Every single utility we've met with has bought one. Obviously, that won't continue, but everyone has bought one so far," he said.

Some utilities and equipment manufacturers are currently testing the device and early data may emerge soon.