Paul De Martini joined the Cisco Smart Grid team as Chief Technology Officer in late April.  He left his position as VP Of Advanced Technology at Southern California Edison (SCE), where he led the utility's smart grid strategy, policy and technology development. 

It's a tipping point of sorts.

Utility executives, not known as the most adventuresome demographic, are now in demand and are moving into the private sector where they can leverage their contacts and knowledge of the utility culture to their new employer's advantage.  When utility executives start moving into smart grid and renewable energy roles, it's a sign that renewable energy is here to stay.  

Laura Ipsen, Cisco's smart grid group leader, recognized De Martini as an expert in the energy and utility industries in a recent blog entry.  She noted that De Martini is  a member of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Smart Grid Interoperability Governing Board, the Edison Electric Institute’s (EEI) Y2030 Strategic Planning Committee and the Electric Power Research Institute’s (EPRI) Intelligrid program.

Martini's LinkedIn profile lists his new responsibilities: "Lead and develop the vision for Cisco’s Smart Grid end-to-end IP architecture and technology and deployment roadmaps as well as Cisco's participation in Smart Grid standards development and work towards the harmonization and adoption of global standards."

Cisco is an example of a relatively safe move for a utility exec.  But some utility folks and Fortune 500 executives have moved to the less secure waters of VC-funded energy startups.  Mike Carlson was the Chief Information Officer at Colorado utility Xcel before he moved to smart grid everything company Gridpoint. And Andy White, a General Electric executive, joined Redwood City, Calif.-based smart meter networking startup Trilliant as CEO last year (see Trilliant Lands GE Vet as CEO).

Utility and policy expertise, always important in energy technology, have become even more crucial for smart grid companies as they look to integrate their solutions into the regulatory and standards infrastructure of the utility-controlled electric grid.

Adrian Tuck of Home Energy Network startup Tendril Networks recently mentioned that there are three full-time employees at Tendril devoted solely to regulatory issues.  So the next time you're dodging a conversation at a party with a policy analyst from the Public Utilities Commission or the California Energy Commission, think again -- they just might be your next boss.