Is the US Losing the Leading Role in Smart Grid? | GreenBiz

Is the US Losing the Leading Role in Smart Grid?

When the World Economic Forum and Accenture launched their latest look at global progress of smart grid technology, the authors selected Tianjian, China, for the debut.

It wasn’t until nearly two months later that the analysis, “Accelerating Successful Smart Grid Pilots (pdf),” was formally unveiled in the U.S. — at a meeting of industry leaders today in Atlanta hosted by General Electric Energy.

The China debut caught my eye. Is it a signal that U.S. leadership in smart grid is giving way? There’s been much worry that the U.S. is losing its edge in clean technologies born here. It’s already happened with solar photo voltaic technology, which is dominated by China. Other sectors — such as e-car, battery and wind technology — are re-centering there, too.

In the smart grid space, the U.S. is a natural leader, given our huge energy appetites and how similar the smart grid is to the Internet.

“As the largest per capita consumers of energy in the world, the United States has both the opportunity and the responsibility to be at the forefront of this revolution,” said Bob Gilligan, GE Energy’s vice president of digital energy, in a statement as part of the WEF event.

Yet as its China debut suggests, the report makes clear that whatever head start the U.S. may have had, it’s being challenged by ambitious programs elsewhere. The report maps out the surprising scope of international efforts. For instance, while Washington committed $4.5 billion into smart grid as part of the stimulus, Beijing committed some $7.3 billion.

The question isn’t so simple as U.S. versus China, of course. China’s key focus isn’t to develop exports, at least not yet. Rather, it’s racing to build out its national grid to keep pace with rapid urbanization and economic growth. And it’s not alone. Newly wealthy India and Brazil, together with Kenya, according to the WEF’s report, are plowing funding into smart grid work to build infrastructure fast, as well.

That said, and unlike China, some other economies are more explicitly focused on developing smart grid technologies for export, the WEF found. These include South Korea, Japan and Singapore. Their plans dovetail nicely with domestic efforts to cultivate green technology industries and lower national energy use.

In Europe, billions are flowing into the sector as part of strong national commitment to build out renewables, roll out e-cars and lower the carbon intensity of the power grid.

To be sure, the sky isn’t falling. According to the WEF’s survey, the U.S. is tied with Europe as leaders in these technologies. Plus in fast-emerging markets like China and India, much of the money being poured into grid technologies is simply to deliver basic services, rather than cutting edge digital systems.

U.S. efforts are gaining speed too. While U.S. public funding in smart grid projects trails that of some other regions, private investment — led by utility spending — is slated to hit $7 billion this year, the WEF estimates. As much as South Korean and Singaporean players may hope to export smart grid gizmos to the U.S., big tech juggernauts here such as GE and IBM are already hustling to sell U.S. expertise into those and other markets too.

This context is worth remembering as the U.S. smart grid rollout goes through some early growing pains. We’ve already seen some barriers to early projects and anxiety is on the rise over the vulnerability of the smart grid to cyber-risks.  These problems aren’t unique to the U.S., of course, and by fixing them, the U.S. smart grid could yet set standards and define the technologies, others will emulate.

A video of the discussion on the report by the WEF and Accenture can be seen here.  The Q&A following the presentation is worth catching, given the caliber of attendees — including Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers — and the thoughtful the discussion of the challenges facing the U.S. rollout.

The full WEF “Accelerating Successful Smart Grid Pilots” is available at

The executive summary is available

Image CC licensed by Flickr users Vince Alongi and Marc_Smith.


Check out the original article at