Echelon Takes the Smart Grid to the Edge

Echelon has launched a new software-hardware combo to control the distribution portion of the grid. The product has two notable aspects: it’s open to third-party developers, and its first customer will be utility Duke Energy.

Over 250,000 Apps Now in the App Store

Apple’s App Store now offers a selection of over 250,000 apps — a record reached in just a little over two years since the App Store first opened its digital doors. Further insight revealed that the average price of a paid application is now $2.67.

AT&T vs. Verizon, Smart Grid Edition

The battle over subscribers and market share between the two phone company giants AT&T and Verizon has now solidly moved onto the smart grid. The latest move from AT&T comes this morning with a partnership with smart grid firm Current Group.

Microgrids: Building Blocks of the Smart Grid

The term “microgrid” may conjure up images of self-sufficient military bases and remote outposts, generating and consuming power without any connections to the larger electricity grid. After all, backup generators that support multiple buildings — the bare-bones definition of a microgrid —  are already a mainstay of hospitals, refineries, data centers, semiconductor plants and other institutions that can’t afford to let the power go down, even for a second. Such stand-alone microgrids now add up to about 450 megawatts of commercial and industrial capacity, and another 322 megawatts in the campus and institutional sector, in the U.S., according to Pike Research.

But utilities, as well as their customers and partners, are increasingly looking past microgrids’ ability to “island” themselves to protect from broader power outages, and are seeking out ways they can use their on-site distributed power generation, and demand reduction and management systems to help the grid at large. Theoretically, these types of microgrids could help the outside grid keep its own power quality stable, helping entire neighborhoods ride through disruptions. And at the end of the road, microgrids could sell their generation and demand reduction back to the utilities they usually buy power from, giving would-be microgrid operators a whole new set of financial incentives to help bolster their business cases.
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Xcel’s SmartGridCity Can Thank Fiber For Ballooning Costs

Xcel Energy’s showcase smart grid project in Boulder, Colo. has cost a lot more than originally expected, and the Colorado Public Utility Commission is now asking the utility to prove why it needs its Colorado customers to foot part of the bill. The main culprit for the cost overruns? — fiber.

According to a Friday story in the Boulder Daily Camera newspaper, SmartGridCity — one of the most widely publicized experiments in bringing smart grid systems to an entire city, with a who’s who of industry partners including GridPoint, Accenture (s ACCN), Current Group, SmartSynch, Ventyx and OSISoft — has seen capital costs balloon from an initially projected $15.3 million to a new estimate of $42.1 million, and that doesn’t include operations and maintenance (the entire project is expected to cost in excess of $100 million).
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Smart Grid Problem?: Smart at the Edge, Dumb In the Middle

Too much intelligence at the edge of a network, and not enough in the middle, makes for a volatile network. That’s according to Ray Gogel, president and chief operating officer of the Current Group, quoted in a Forbes article this morning.

Gogel says a lot of the attention so far on the smart grid has been focused on “the edge” of the network — power generation and consumer energy consumption — and he’s worried that if there are too many nodes (renewable energy, smart meters) added at the edges of the network before the middle of the grid can catch up, in terms of intelligence, it will make for a volatile smart grid. The situation “scares utility people like myself,” he tells Forbes.
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XCel Energy Says Boulder SmartGridCity Is Live

powergridgeneric4If you thought the smart grid was a distant future, in some cities it’s already here. Xcel Energy (s XEL), which sells electricity and gas in eight western and mid-western states, says its SmartGridCity Project in Boulder, Colo. is now live. At least the smart distribution piece is up and running. That includes the network infrastructure and software for routing power to automated substations and around impacted power lines, and Xcel says the deployed technology is already enabling the company to anticipate network failures and fix broken gear before a major outage occurs.
gridpointcongresstestimony
The milestone is important because it shows how quickly utilities are now moving to get smart grid projects deployed. The utility started construction on the project last year, and SmartGridCity is now one of the projects that is the farthest along in the U.S. and one of the first that can claim to have a distribution piece up and running. The technology was built by Accenture (s ACN), Current Group, GridPoint, OSIsoft, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, SmartSynch and Ventyx.
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Lawmakers Look to Tech Execs, Wal-Mart for Smart Grid Scoop

Not too long ago, executives from IBM (s IBM), Wal-Mart (s WMT) and General Electric (s GE) might have seemed a motley crew of experts for a Congressional hearing about the electric grid and clean power. But yesterday the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming heard testimony from that very crew, plus the CEOs of gas turbine maker Florida Turbine Technologies and smart grid software developer Current Group, to learn about technology that can bring the national energy grid up to date and incorporate renewable energy.

At this point, the grid and energy game is more open than it has been for years. As Current Group CEO Tom Casey noted in his testimony, the legacy players hardly have a lock on the smart grid:

[I]t is highly likely neither the “Google” nor the “iPod” of home energy management has been invented yet and it is just as likely that it will not be invented by a traditional vendor of utility equipment.

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What’s There to TokBox?

nullBain Capital must be psychic. Apparently they’ve looked into the future and seen that TokBox, a San Francisco-based startup, will either grow into a large company or find a buyer for what is essentially a Flash-based, in-browser video chat service that’s gotten marginal traction. Sure, the company has a new desktop client that allows you to video chat with anyone, but then so does my iChat.

Bain Capital has led a $10 million investment in TokBox. The move comes less than a month after the company named a new CEO, Nick Triantos, who has worked for many tech firms, but has never before held that title.

The company launched in October 2007 and has thus far raised a total of $14 million from Bain and early investors Sequoia Capital. Scott Friend, Venture Partner at Bain Capital Ventures, in a press release announcing the Series B round, said:

“The company is executing well…We are excited to be investing with our partners at Seqouia in a company we believe has the potential to be the next ‘big thing’ in web communication.”

Just to put his words into context, TokBox recently fired its founder and CEO, Serge Faguet. And according to Compete.com, they had about 179,000 visitors in the month of July, though they did sign a deal with Meebo that stands to get them some traction. (For a list of their competitors, check out NewTeeVee’s round-up of video chat applications.)

From the way I understand it, TokBox is using the built-in video capture capabilities in Flash player combined with the Flash media server to offer in-browser video conferencing. When the company launched, I pointed out that it was an “interesting idea, but more of a feature than a platform for a standalone company or model for a viable, long-term business. If (and that’s a big if) TokBox is going to work, it will need to be rapidly adopted by the marketplace.” Rapid adoption hasn’t quite happened, however, and I wonder if it ever will.

But again, the guys at Bain must be able to look into the future better than us skeptics.