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Updated: 3 years 41 weeks ago

Silver Spring and the Promise of a Faster-to-Market Smart Grid

Fri, 09/28/2012 - 14:00

When it comes to smart grid trends, fast is the new smart.

That’s one way to take a string of announcements from smart grid vendors over the past two weeks, launching various smart grid products that include a speedy delivery guarantee.

The latest comes from Silver Spring Networks, the startup that’s keeping the smart grid industry on its toes awaiting its long-promised, yet to be delivered IPO. On Thursday, the Redwood City, Calif.-based company announced its “Speed-to-Value” program -- essentially, a promise to lend its technology and service expertise to utilities wanting “easy-to-implement offerings” for distribution automation, fault location, load control, and conservation voltage reduction.

That’s a short list of some of the most common distribution grid functions being offered by companies like General Electric, Siemens, Schneider Electric/Telvent, ABB/Ventyx, Alstom, Eaton/Cooper Industries, S&C Electric Co., and a whole host of smart grid contenders. Most of these projects use SCADA systems to communicate, but Silver Spring, with nearly 10 million smart meters networked at utilities across the country, wants to expand its wireless network and its endpoint-to-utility control room software from simply metering to all sorts of different services like these.

This stuff isn’t new to Silver Spring. It’s already doing distribution automation in Department of Energy-funded projects for utility customers like AEP and FPL, and recently announced it was integrating with Virginia energy company Dominion’s Edge platform.

Likewise, on the demand response and home connectivity front, it’s connecting thousands of smart thermostats to peak-shaving pricing plans for Oklahoma Gas & Electric, in one of the country’s first commercial-scale deployments of home energy management via smart meters. Last week, it launched its “Direct-to-Grid” program, aimed at delivering direct monitoring and management of energy intensive assets such as air conditioners, electric heaters, water heaters, and pool pumps.

But these are first-of-a-kind pilot projects, and have taken a year or more to bring online. Silver Spring’s new offering is meant to accelerate that deployment schedule to months, though the company didn’t give specific timetables for how fast its Speed-to-Value program could get a customer up and running.

While Silver Spring didn’t offer too many specifics on customers or partners for its new offering, it’s clear it will be using sensors from its partner Sentient Energy at least. A company spokesman mentioned features like “hot-stick” deployment and self-powered capabilities in an email further describing the new offering, both features of Sentient’s power line sensors which now come with Silver Spring radios inside. (The two haven’t said where they’ve deployed yet.)

But Silver Spring is also offering self-contained software packages to roll out these services, built on its UtilityIQ software platform, which is already supporting distribution automation and utility-to-home connectivity, as well as integrating into a long list of partner platforms, the most recent being eMeter.   

Indeed, “Some of these Speed-to-Value offers require a Silver Spring network, but not all,” the company stated in an email. “The DA (distribution automation) pilots, for example, are designed for utilities that don’t already have a Silver Spring network or have not yet used the Silver Spring network for DA. The Speed-to-Value package includes all the infrastructure needed to automate a couple of feeder lines on a substation, making it faster for the utility to see the benefit of leveraging communicating DA devices.”

Silver Spring is tapping into an industry-wide trend toward simplification, modularization and speed in smart grid deployments. Last week, SAP launched its “Rapid-Deployment” program, which promises to tie a utility’s transformer monitoring systems into a back-end analytics suite in seven to ten weeks, to name one example.

Silver Spring’s smart meter competitors (and sometime partners) like Itron, Elster Landis+Gyr, Aclara and Echelon are also building more grid-supporting functions into their smart meter networks, with a key goal being to improve future interoperability. Itron and Elster have partnered up with Cisco to integrate their smart meters with Cisco’s smart grid networking expertise and equipment, and Elster and Landis+Gyr share each other’s radios, to name a few examples.

Likewise, the IT vendors that supply the smart grid with its servers, storage and networking gear are putting together modular, “utility-in-a-box” type offerings with various partners, aimed at delivering a set of functions in a pre-integrated package. Infosys is working with SAP and Oracle on a utility-in-a-box product that comes in the form of a hardened IT box on a cart and an Infosys expert on hand to install it, and Cisco and NetApp are deploying similar packages for data center energy management, to name a few.

While Silver Spring declined to comment on which IT partners it was working with on its new speedy-delivery service, strategic investors like Hitachi ($30 million) and EMC ($24 million) both do work in smart grid IT.

As for the value of speed-to-market, Silver Spring cited cost reductions and faster revenue generation as key drivers. While the company didn’t add regulatory pressure, it could have: utilities around the country are under fire from state regulators that want them to prove their hundred-million-dollar-plus smart meter deployments are creating the benefits for customers that they promised.

Recall that an Oracle survey earlier this year found that nearly half of utilities that have deployed AMI to date haven’t implemented a meter data management system, let alone the more complex IT that would allow them to use meter data for business processes and analysis, or operations processes like outage notification and power quality monitoring. The main reason utilities gave for lacking software to back up their AMI hardware was time -- for earlier-stage projects, many just hadn’t gotten there yet.

Undoubtedly Silver Spring will be trying to up-sell its existing utility customers with smart meter networks on services like these. Most of its deployments are with a few key U.S. customers like Pacific Gas & Electric, Pepco, OG&E, Commonwealth Edison and Progress Energy, though the 10-year-old company is also branching into international markets, with a presence in Australia since 2009 and more recently in Brazil and New Zealand. Its S-1 states that it wants to expand those networks to support more and more revenue-generating services, including plug-in electric vehicle charging and, potentially, solar panel monitoring.

Silver Spring has raised just under $300 million to date, and its June 2011 S-1 declared the intent to raise as much as $150 million on the Nasdaq, for a valuation that reports at the time said could be as high as $3 billion. The company has repeatedly declined to comment on its IPO plans.

Cleanweb Hackathon Returns to NYC

Fri, 09/28/2012 - 10:00

The San Francisco Bay Area tends to get most of the attention when it comes cleantech and technology innovation. But that’s changing. Earlier this year, The Center for an Urban Future found that New York City was just behind to Silicon Valley as a leading high-tech hub. The technology sector is growing faster in the Big Apple than anywhere else in the U.S.

The growth in tech -- and the burgeoning cleantech community (of which Greentech Media counts itself as a member) -- makes New York the perfect city for another Cleanweb Hackathon.

The hackathon, which first came to New York earlier this year, encourages developers to apply information technology to resource constraints, primarily in the areas of water and energy efficiency, transportation and waste management. In 2012, there have been more than a dozen Cleanweb Hackathons across North America and Europe.

Teams of software engineers will be equipped with datasets and APIs, along with pizza and coffee, over 28 hours to develop novel solutions to pressing problems. The event will kick off Friday evening, September 28 at AlleyNYC, with the official hackathon taking place on Saturday, September 29.

Facebook, a new sponsor to the event, is sending its sustainability guru, Bill Weihl, to serve as one of the judges, and he will speak at the kickoff event on Friday evening. Other sponsors include Con Edison’s C&I Energy Efficiency Program, NYSERDA, Hodgson Russ LLP, Energy Visions Prize and the Carbon War Room.

The scope of the sponsors illustrates just how much IT solutions are needed to help solve the problems of limited resources, whether it’s in New York City or on the other side of the world. “From maritime shipping to energy efficiency in buildings, we are starting to see some amazing IT applications having a positive impact on the bottom line of many companies across the globe.” said Mark Grundy, Director of Communications & Network Engagement at the Carbon War Room. “We are excited to offer our market expertise in new clean technology sectors to the hackathon -- and to speed up the development of these new apps.”

While some of the solutions to energy and water are a need for more physical infrastructure -- whether that’s solar panels or efficient gas turbines or upgraded water pipes -- software applications that help people understand how much they use and then how to use less of limited resources are an important starting point. And as anyone who has ever seen an IBM commercial in the past few years knows, IT can help bring intelligence to how we use everything -- whether it's a roadway or farmland. 

At January’s New York hackathon, which had more than 300 participants, the overall prize went to Econofy and their slogan, "Before you buy, Econofy." The beta website allows consumers to compare appliances by their energy efficiency ratings. "By buying the most energy-efficient products," says their description, "you can save big in the long run." There were 15 apps in total that came out of the hackathon.

During the last event, many apps made use of Green Button data, where electric utilities provide customer energy use, with customer’s approval, to third parties. Far more utilities have signed up for Green Button since January, so Green Button could be another popular access point for data. The Green Button initiative has also held a few hackathons of its own.

Data is also available from various sources, including Tendril Connect’s API, NYC OpenData, OpenEnergyInfo, Facebook’s Open Graph, The World Bank, Foursquare, Twitter and many others.

The competitors will be vying for different titles, including Best Overall App and Audience Award app. Ann Davlin, Director of Development at the Carbon War Room, Charlotte Kim, Partner at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, David Yeh, Senior Advisor at the Department of Energy, Maria Gotsch, President and CEO of the New York City Investment Fund and Bill Weihl will serve as judges.

Live Broadcast: What Will the 2012 Election Mean for the Future of US Clean Energy?

Thu, 09/27/2012 - 18:34

President Obama and Governor Romney have already put forth energy plans committed to increasing North American energy independence through an all-of-the-above approach, but many of the similarities end there. Obama and Romney have set distinct priorities regarding renewable energy sources (Greentech Media has extensively covered Romney’s energy platform). With the election approaching quickly, the question now turns to: "How we can catapult the U.S. into an age of advanced energy, regardless of who is POTUS in 2013?"

On Thursday, a Clean Energy Connections panel will address this challenge. What issues are on the table? First, the very definition of clean energy: both candidates agree that nuclear energy has a role in the country’s future, but does it count as renewable? With natural gas prices still low, how will fracking impact the cleantech economy? Other topics that the panel will address include the importance of the congressional elections and the ever-present role of Solyndra pre- and post-election.

One strong example of the policies playing out: wind power has become a polarizing issue. Romney has come out against the industry’s production tax credit (PTC), assailing the practice that he characterizes as using the tax code to pick winners. As wind power companies brace for the impact of the credit's December expiration, the solar industry continues to be haunted by consolidation even as it expands in terms of job numbers. Bill Clinton reminded the solar industry to get out and tell their story better -- but will they even get that chance under Romney?

Ultimately, CEOs in the cleantech industry must be willing to work with whoever holds sway inside the beltway. Still, the green landscape will appear dramatically different depending on the outcome of the election. And this election may itself depend on the state of cleantech.

Join the expert panelists by attending "Cleantech Elect: What the 2012 Election Will Mean for the Future of U.S. Clean Energy" on Thursday, September 27, 2012, from 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM at the Jerome L. Greene Performance Space, 44 Charlton Street (at Varick Street), New York. Not in the New York area? Bookmark this article and tune into the live stream that we’ll play beginning at 7:05 PM EDT. Speaker details below.

Opening Speaker:

  • Michele Wucker, President, The World Policy Institute

Featured Speakers:  

  • Travis Bradford, Founder, The Prometheus Institute for Sustainable Development

  • Tim Greeff, Vice President, Government Affairs, Advanced Energy Economy


  • Shayle Kann, Vice President, Research, Greentech Media

Take part in the discussion online by submitting comments and questions during the live broadcast via Twitter (@CleanECnyc, #cleanNRGx). Visit for more details.


SoloPower’s Price Premium for Flexible CIGS Solar: $2.20 per Watt?

Thu, 09/27/2012 - 15:00

Can SoloPower reverse the global downward pricing trend of solar panels and command a higher price for its unique product?

SoloPower's CEO, Tim Harris, claims his firm can extract a premium for its unique flexible panel in places like Korea or Japan -- regions that have high electricity prices and incentives for rooftop solar or building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV). 

How much of a premium?

Well, SoloPower's Korean partner CTI is listing prices at $2.20 per watt at 10-megawatt volumes (see image below or PDF here). We'll suggest the disclaimer that these are non-scaled costs, distribution in Korea, and list prices. 

But the company still must compete against solar panels from China and the U.S. with costs of $0.70 per watt. And that remains to be seen.

At this point, SoloPower's strategy focuses on Japan, Korea, and Italy -- all strong rooftop markets, where the company can leverage its balance-of-system savings argument.

We reported on SoloPower, its DOE loan guarantee, and its technology risk in an article earlier this week. The company just had the grand opening for its 400-megawatt manufacturing facility in Portland, Oregon. The christening of the factory is a crucial step in SoloPower being able to access some of the $197 million DOE loan guarantee.

SoloPower is going after the same rooftop market as Ascent Solar, Global Solar, and the now-bankrupt ECD, except it is doing it with a more efficient product. The value proposition for flexible modules from SoloPower is that there is less hardware required to install the modules and the installation is easier and less expensive. However, this thesis has yet to be proven in volume and scale. The other alleged advantage of flexible CIGS solar panels is that their lightweight nature opens up "value-engineered" rooftops that could not support the weight of conventional crystalline solar panels. This thesis also remains to be proven.

The question remains as to whether SoloPower can prove the commercial business case for its flexible CIGS solar panels and improve the optics of the beleaguered DOE loan guarantee program. The price of solar panels has plunged and manufacturers of solar panels are dropping like flies due to pricing pressure from Chinese vendors and, to a lesser extent, First Solar of the U.S.

CEO Harris has claimed that his new factory is booked, but the real pipeline is difficult to assess.

Solar panels manufactured in the CIGS thin film materials system have long held the promise of high efficiency at low costs but have yet to deliver -- despite billions of dollars invested by venture capital investors. Solyndra is the most prominent failure, but other CIGS companies like AQT have faltered as well. CIGS firms HelioVolt and Ascent Solar gave over their firms to Asian conglomerate SK Group and TFG Radiant Group, respectively. Nanosolar has shipped in the neighborhood of ten megawatts of solar panels over the course of ten years and three CEOs. MiaSolé, despite strong technical achievements, has been forced to lay off a large fraction of its employees as its management looks for an acquirer or partner. Q-Cells sold its CIGS effort, Solibro, to Chinese power firm Hanergy.

SoloPower has raised more than $200 million from Hudson Clean Energy Partners, Crosslink Capital, Convexa, and Firsthand Capital. The firm has also won significant tax credits and incentives from state government.


Smart Grid Cybersecurity Alert: Telvent Reports Hack

Thu, 09/27/2012 - 14:00

The smart grid cybersecurity debate has just shifted from hypothetical to real.

Telvent, the smart grid giant owned by Schneider Electric, has reported that hackers breached its network, left behind malicious software and accessed project files for its OASyS SCADA system. That’s the same system that Telvent uses to control power grid, oil and gas pipeline, and industrial controls around the world, as well as to integrate them with utility enterprise systems and new smart grid platforms.

Telvent is still investigating the incident, but has said that clues indicate a Chinese group with a track record of infiltrating other Western interests is involved, according to a report from Krebs on Security. As a precautionary measure, Telvent has disconnected its customers’ access to its own networks for the indefinite future.

The smart grid industry has been plagued with cybersecurity problems for awhile now, but they’ve almost all been reports from the Department of Homeland Security, or independent security researchers, of potential weaknesses and threats to critical grid systems.

Telvent’s announcement of an actual hack would appear to be much more serious.  Telvent told Wired’s Threat Level blog that it was working with its customers, law enforcement and security to “ensure that this breach has been contained.” But, as security experts told Wired, the fact that project files had been accessed could mean that hackers had gained insight into how Telvent’s OASyS system works, which could lead to further attacks.

At the same time, Telvent recently hired Industrial Defender, a company that staffs network operations centers to secure critical industrial control systems, including grid assets, from intrusion. Swiss grid giant ABB is also a customer of, and investor in, Industrial Defender, which represents a labor-intensive and expensive, if very proactive, way to secure the grid from cyber-intrusion.

Another way to fight hackers is to bring more of the smart grid into the realm of standards-based technology, where there’s a depth of expertise and ever-evolving support for securing critical networks. Cisco is, unsurprisingly, a big champion of Internet Protocol (IP) for the smart grid, and particularly the latest security enhancements of IPv6, saying that it’s one surefire way to allow utilities to get up to speed with Wall Street, the Department of Defense and other leaders in cybersecurity.

Still, there are lots and lots of grid assets that run on legacy systems that can’t be replaced overnight -- and with the rise of the smart grid, more and more of them are being connected to utility IT systems that connect, in one way or another, to the internet at large.

That makes securing today’s grid a matter of upgrading the ability of millions of endpoints like smart meters and grid controls, along with the chain of networking and software that binds them to the utility enterprise, to protect themselves from attack, as well as warn the system when that attack is occurring, which can trigger a series of security responses to detect, prevent or minimize it -- a so-called “defense in depth” approach

For context, here’s a report from last month on the latest Department of Homeland Security report of a potential breach of a smart grid vendor’s cybersecurity, along with a list of the challenges the industry faces in securing its new smart infrastructure:

Another day, another cybersecurity flaw revealed in the IT systems that run the world’s critical infrastructure -- and this time, the Department of Homeland Security is getting involved.

The latest bad smart grid security news is for RuggedCom, the hardened grid and industrial router company bought by Siemens for $381 million last year. DHS reported (PDF) that it is investigating a flaw that could be used to decrypt RuggedCom’s data traffic between an end user and the router.

From there, attackers could theoretically launch denial-of-service attacks, or infiltrate and potentially control networks that run power turbines, high-voltage grid gear and industrial plant across the world, according to security expert Justin Clarke, who revealed the exploit Friday at a Los Angeles conference.  

"If you can get to the inside, there is almost no authentication, there are almost no checks and balances to stop you," is how Clarke put it to the BBC. Getting access to RuggedCom’s network is merely the matter of extracting the software "key" used to encrypt traffic, he said.  

This isn’t the first alert from the DHS’ Industrial Control Systems Computer Emergency Response Team (ICS-CERT). The federal agency tagged what turned out to be a SCADA system employee logging on from Russia as a potential foreign attack on an Illinois water utility last year. ICS-CERT reported a total of 90 vulnerabilities so far this year, up from 60 in 2011.

But some of the agency’s warnings could have an impact on the grid and other critical infrastructure. In December, ICS-CERT notified the industry of vulnerabilities in remote terminal units (RTUs) built by Schneider Electric’s Telvent, which one security expert told us may have cost utilities dearly in replaced equipment.

It’s all part of the process of bringing utilities up to the cybersecurity required in the new age of smart grid. Simply put, yesterday’s grid technology was built with the assumption that it would stand apart, in locked industrial sites and control centers, unavailable to outside tampering. But connecting that legacy technology to today’s IT world via the smart grid opens it up to all sorts of hacks.

That’s going to unleash a flood of investment in smart grid cybersecurity over the next few years. GTM Research predicts spending on cybersecurity products and services will grow from $120 million in 2011 to $237.6 million in 2015, making it the second largest segment behind distribution automation in terms of utility enterprise IT spending.

Some recent deals in the cybersecurity space include software startup N-Dimension’s $3.85 million Series A round last month, and grid giant ABB’s investment into Industrial Defender, which offers SCADA protection services for big industrial customers. In the meantime, all the big smart grid players -- IBM, Cisco, HP, Microsoft, Accenture, CapGemini, Logica, Lockheed Martin, SAIC, the big meter makers and SCADA vendors, etc. -- are promising state-of-the-art cybersecurity from their new smart grid offerings.

We’re seeing renewed focus on cybersecurity from government and regulators as well. Last month, the National Security Agency reported a 17-fold rise in attempted cyber-attacks between 2009 and 2011. A Senate energy panel heard experts from GAO, FERC and NERC testify to the nation’s vulnerability to cyber-attack in a July hearing, though a bill that would have stiffened security regulations failed to pass later that month.

In the meantime, there’s an ever-expanding list of major vendors that are seeing their SCADA systems being hacked in front of a live audience. Earlier this year, for example, Digital Bond released exploits of Schneider Electric’s programmable logic controller (PLC) units, which translate SCADA messages to commands at end devices.

The firm claims it can do things like rewrite the PLC’s “ladder logic,” which allows it to take control of such fundamental functions as issuing stop and run commands -- the kind of thing that can throw a power turbine or substation into a breakdown. Previous hacks include those of Siemens’ PLCs by Metasploit creator H.D. Moore, of General Electric’s D20 PLCs, of Telvent’s PLCs by independent SCADA security researcher Rubén Santamarta, and of ABB’s ActiveX scripting interfaces and WebWare Server application by Billy Rios and Terry McCorkle, as part of their “100 bugs in 100 days” project.

Even adding a PC-based interface can open the doors to intrusions. Stuxnet -- the malicious code aimed at upsetting Iran’s nuclear development program via sabotaging centrifuge systems -- was introduced to the system via thumb drives left lying around the office, according to reports.

Stuxnet was aimed at Siemens' SCADA systems, and cybersecurity experts contend that the industrial giant hasn’t fixed the underlying vulnerabilities in that system that the virus targeted. Since then, security firm Symantec has reported that a variant known as Duqu has been developed, apparently by the same shadowy group that created Stuxnet, with the aim of gathering information about SCADA systems for espionage or planning future attacks. 

In short, the utility sector is entering the wild, wooly world of cyber-warfare and industrial espionage, like it or not. It’s a commonplace in the security industry that only a massive, destructive cyber-attack will wake the powers-that-be into spending the money on security that’s required. Hopefully, we’ll never know. But with vulnerabilities being publicized every week or so, the industry certainly isn’t getting a free pass on the issue anymore.

SAP: From Utility Back-Office to Grid Analytics

Thu, 09/27/2012 - 13:00

SAP might be best known for its back-office enterprise software, but it’s also branching into the operational side of the smart grid.

Last week, the German software giant unveiled a new technology platform that seeks to extend its enterprise expertise to a core utility operations task: trying to figure out when power transformers are about to break down, and when to replace them.

It’s all part of SAP’s new Grid Infrastructure Analytics suite, which is meant to offer utilities a faster and easier way to get into the world of big data analytics without a years-long, multi-million-dollar IT overhaul. In fact, SAP is promising that it can get its new analytics engine up and running within 7 to 10 weeks, as compared to as many months for a more traditional enterprise-wide IT upgrade.

James McClelland, SAP’s senior marketing director for utilities and energy, said that SAP’s new transformer health analytics platform takes in all sorts of data -- weather patterns and local temperature and humidity, voltage and power quality readings levels, internal transformer oil temperature and dissolved gas detection data, etc. -- and combines it to provide a more accurate idea of how well that transformer is performing.

SAP already has a big presence in the utility industry, with more than 2,000 customers running its enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, billing and customer service suites, business analytics and other such bread-and-butter back-office systems.

It also has a smart meter analytics platform that’s gone to market via its “AMI Lighthouse Council,” a group of industry partners like Landis+Gyr, eMeter, Itron and OSIsoft that together have landed more than 50 utilities, with big clients including BC Hydro and South Korea’s Jeju Island smart grid demonstration project. It’s also involved in “big data” efforts like Southern California Edison’s massive smart grid data analytics project with Itron, IBM and Teradata.

For the most part, these projects are focused on bread-and-butter back-office business processes. But SAP’s leap into transformer health monitoring represents a new effort to bring its asset management systems up to the speed of the smart grid.

For the most part, utilities lack an integrated way to track and analyze the disparate factors that determine transformer health -- a problem when you’re talking about managing pieces of equipment that can cost tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars to replace, but even more so when they fail unexpectedly.

GTM Research’s 2010 utility enterprise IT report has identified some key “gaps” in today’s utility enterprise asset management (EAM) systems and the smart grid. Simply put, EAMs aren’t built to incorporate all the data flowing from these new smart devices, let alone analyze all these disparate data points according to their complex interactions.

SAP’s new rapid-deployment, single-issue transformer health module thus represents “a bit of the evolution of the applications landscape,” McClelland said. The model of the past, where utilities had to choose between an entire ERP system or nothing at all, is being replaced by a more modular model, aimed at delivering digestible upgrades that serve specific purposes without breaking the IT budget, he said.

SAP is a leader in enterprise asset management for utilities, along with competitors like Oracle, Logica, Ventyx (acquired by ABB) and Maximo (acquired by IBM). No doubt these players are also adapting their utility asset management platforms and products to incorporate the heterogeneous, near-real-time data coming from the smart grid.

At the same time, we’ve seen a host of smart grid vendors pitch new and interesting ways to gain similar grid asset health measurements without a full-blown ERP. Smart meter makers including Itron, Silver Spring Networks, Elster and others are promising to provide power measurements to systems that monitor transformer health, and Echelon just launched an app that allows its transformer meters to collect other sensor data to get a clearer picture.

Likewise, big smart grid vendors like ABB, Siemens and General Electric are building in more sophisticated asset management into their transformers, while specialist sensor companies like LumaSense are seeking to expand their role in smart grid to broader applications.

SAP has done a few acquisitions of its own that it’s incorporating into its new grid analysis platform. Earlier this summer, it acquired Syclo, which develops technology to support enterprise-wide mobile device applications. Not surprisingly, part of SAP’s new transformer health platform includes delivering its analytics to field workers via remote devices.

SAP hasn’t named any utility customers of its new grid analytics platform yet, though McClelland said that some customers have tested it and are considering buying it. This isn’t the only part of the grid SAP might want to analyze, either. Other areas it might explore include creating models of energy use for customers and creating energy programs to fit their characteristics, he said.

New York City Building Energy Benchmarking Results a First

Thu, 09/27/2012 - 12:00

Call it energy efficiency meets keeping up with the Joneses. New York City recently became the first city in the nation to make the energy use of every large private-sector building -- gathered via a citywide mandatory benchmarking process -- available to the general public. This publication of this information, comprising 2,065 buildings in all, is a first for any U.S. city, state, or county, and is aimed at giving New Yorkers a better picture of how much energy the building next door is using, as well as how much they could stand to save.

“New York has just taken a giant leap for transparency: this is the largest publication ever of metered energy performance data from buildings in a single city,” said the executive director of the Institute for Market Transformation, Cliff Majersik, in a statement. “Markets need information to function, and this will let New Yorkers know how much energy the buildings around them are using.” He went on to note that this will also offer residents of the city crucial real-estate information that, until now, hasn’t been available.

The results of the 2011 energy-benchmarking process for commercial buildings in New York City are now online on the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan website, along with a letter offering a detailed explanation of the output scores. This benchmarking and posting process will now be an annual requirement for all large buildings in New York City, with results for large residential buildings joining those for large commercial and municipal buildings on the site for the first time in the fall of 2013.

Energy use in buildings is considered to be responsible for around 75 percent of New York City’s overall carbon emissions, so this benchmarking, or measuring, and disclosure of energy use in buildings forms the cornerstone of the city’s Greener, Greater Buildings Plan. This plan, in turn, is a key component of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s overall PlaNYC goal, which is to reduce citywide carbon emissions 30 percent by 2030.

The city’s recent disclosure of private building energy use contains the first analysis of New York City benchmarking data collected as part of Local Law 84, which requires all privately owned properties with individual buildings over 50,000 square feet (or with multiple buildings with a combined square footage over 100,000 square feet) to annually measure and report their energy and water use. This law may be just one more hoop that building owners have to jump through to do business in the Big Apple, but it comes with rewards as well.

By using benchmarking data, building owners and managers will find it easier to assess where cost-effective building improvements can be made -- the way the Empire State Building did, to the tune of $4.4 million in savings on an annual basis. It will also allow companies offering energy-efficient upgrades and retrofitting services to locate those buildings most in need of their products and services. And finally, since the city’s benchmarking requirement will be, henceforth, an annual occurrence, the city will also be able to hand out rewards for buildings that improve their performance from one year to the next.


Editor's note: This article is reposted in its original form from EarthTechling. Author credit goes to Susan DeFreitas.

The Reign of Residential PV in Japan

Thu, 09/27/2012 - 10:00

The following is a modified excerpt from GTM Research's recently published report, The Japan PV Market, 2012-2016. For more information on the report, click here.

The Japanese solar PV market is in a state of flux; since the market's inception, the ‘Big Four’ module suppliers -- Kyocera, Sharp, Sanyo (now owned by Panasonic), and Mitsubishi -- shaped PV in Japan while serving their primary suppliers. Now, foreign entrants such as Suntech, Canadian Solar, Yingli, Trina, and JA Solar, as well as Japanese newcomers such as Solar Frontier, threaten to dethrone the incumbents. While the country's new feed-in tariff (FIT), intended to develop the large-scale solar market, has positioned Japan as a center of global PV demand, the market's main driver is and will continue to be the residential sector.

The figure below demonstrates just how powerful the residential market sector is in Japan (note that this figure defines the residential market as systems below 10 kilowatts-DC). Over 96 percent of the cumulative PV capacity in Japan is distributed, with the remainder being centralized PV plants. This merits the question, what supply chains have helped Japan become the largest residential market?

FIGURE: Residential Market Share for Major Markets in 2011

Source: The Japan PV Market, 2012-2016: A New Era of Solar or the Beginning of a Boom-Bust Cycle?

One of the primary inhibitors for the Japanese market has been its high system prices relative to other markets. Residential systems in FY2011 averaged ¥543 per watt (US$6.93 per watt) for retrofits and ¥472 per watt ($6.02 per watt) for new homes. Some of the major factors contributing to these high prices include:

  • Significant subsidy programs in combination with a lack of downstream competition allowing installers to charge high prices – in other words, padded downstream margins
  • Use of higher-cost, domestically produced panels and BOS materials
  • Preferential use of expensive products such as high-efficiency panels, panels with black or alternative backsheets, or triangular panels
  • High cost of acquisition of customers
    - Expensive marketing schemes including television commercials
    - Door-to-door sales
    - Complicated distribution networks
    - Relatively small system sizes (average of 4.34 kilowatts per home in FY2011)
  • Sales of products almost exclusively in kits
    - Generally include monitoring and other high-cost items such as LCD screens for the monitoring systems
  • The Japanese yen is valued at a near all-time high compared to the euro or USD at August 2012 foreign exchange rates. This was true throughout 2011, as well.
  • High labor costs relative to other countries

It is worth noting that black backsheets and triangular panels are often used as differentiators.

The sales and distribution channels in Japan are unique and relatively complicated and inefficient compared to European or American markets. Until very recently, there have been very few solar specialists in Japan, and one of the main sales channels has been through home builders. Compare this to the United States or Germany, where the vast majority of residential systems are installed by companies that specialize in solar installations.

Many home builders integrate solar systems into the home during construction. In these cases, PV system costs are wrapped into the home mortgage. ‘Eco’ homes are now very popular, especially since the Fukushima disaster and resulting electricity shortages. Sales of home energy management systems (HEMS) and battery storage systems alongside solar systems are becoming popular as well. The percentage of new homes with solar in Japan is rising. The figure below demonstrates the growth of the new home starts solar market in Japan.

FIGURE: New Home Solar Integration Trends

Source: The Japan PV Market, 2012-2016: A New Era of Solar or the Beginning of a Boom-Bust Cycle?

This sales channel is very seasonal, and is dependent on the housing market as a whole. However, the figure above shows that the number of solar installations on new homes has been increasing by more than 55 percent per year since 2009. Housing data from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism (MLIT) shows that the percentage of all new housing starts (including apartments, etc.) with solar was roughly 8 percent in 2011. We estimate that this number will increase to over 10 percent in 2012 and to nearly 15 percent in 2013.

It is important to note that the housing start data reported by the MLIT includes apartments in high-rise residential developments and other locations where solar is not feasible. The percent of detached houses with solar is therefore higher than we report. All of the top home builders now offer eco-homes equipped with solar and often HEMS and batteries, as well. GTM Research recently published a report titled The Smart Grid in Asia, 2012-2016: Markets, Technologies and Strategies which discusses EMS in Japan and forecasts that the HEMS market will reach $2.3 billion by 2015. Some of the largest homebuilders involved in solar include:

  • Sekisui Home
    - 77.9 percent of its detached homes in FY2011 were built with PV or fuel cells
  • Sekisui Chemical
  • Daiwa House Co.
    - Recently launched Endless Green Program
  • PanaHome (subsidiary of Panasonic)
  • Misawa Home
    - 30.7 percent of homes in FY2011 were built with PV
  • Mitsui Home
  • Mitsubishi Estate

Home builders such as Mitsubishi Estate or PanaHome naturally offer their own panels (Mitsubishi Electric and Panasonic, respectively); however, the others offer a range of products. We discuss the opportunities for entrance into this market in the full report. Home builders and remodelers also offer solar systems during remodeling and re-roofing and for pure retrofitting of existing homes.

FIGURE: Existing Home Solar Integration Trends

Source: The Japan PV Market, 2012-2016: A New Era of Solar or the Beginning of a Boom-Bust Cycle?

As the figure above demonstrates, retrofitting existing homes is less seasonal and is very dependent on the availability of local incentives. This market segment has grown at roughly 90 percent per year since 2009. A home remodeler and trading company, West Holdings, is the country’s largest residential solar installer. These trading companies have shown a greater willingness to use foreign equipment than some of the other residential channels (discussed in detail in the report). In fact, West Holdings sells panels produced by domestic and foreign manufacturers (including JA Solar, Yingli and Suntech) as well as its own brand, E-Solar (using Eversol cells).

To learn more about GTM Research's The Japan PV Market, 2012-2016 report and to purchase a copy today, visit

Enmetric Quietly Plugs Into Enterprise Plug Load

Thu, 09/27/2012 - 07:00

As the largest tenant in the U.S., the General Services Administration knows a little something about plug load.

To cut energy and encourage best practices, the GSA recently used Enmetric Systems’ smart power strips in eight buildings as part of the Green Proving Ground program.

With Enmetric’s schedule-based functionality, the GSA reduced plug loads at workstations by 26 percent and by nearly 50 percent in printer rooms and kitchens.  

Building dashboard company Lucid just picked up Enmetric as a partner in the plug-load management space. The decision to partner with Enmetric came after Lucid tried out the smart strips in its own office.

The GSA is hardly Enmetric’s first big-name client, and Lucid is not its first partnership. The Belmont, Calif.-based company partnered with Teknion earlier this year to integrate plug-load management into Teknion’s office furniture, especially cubicles. Enmetric is also working with Google, Adobe, Hines and others.

“Plug-load management isn’t incredibly well known,” said Ryan Bermudez, marketing director at Enmetric. “We’re still focused on direct sales but we’re looking for OEM and channel partners.”

The company, which was founded in 2008 and started selling its product in 2011, has smart power strips, which communicate back to a gateway over wireless standard IEEE 805.15.4. That’s the same standard that ZigBee operates on, but “we built our own proprietary stack,” said Bermudez. Enmetric raised $1.5 million in a Series A round of VC funding. 

Unlike residential smart power strips that might have a dozen devices plugged in, offices could have hundreds of items that need a plug. Because of the scale of office devices, Enmetric found that mesh and ZigBee just couldn’t transmit at the speed it was looking for: once per second for each plugged-in device.

In the GSA pilot, for example, nearly 300 devices were being monitored. The GSA noted that one of the reasons it chose Enmetric was because all of the plugs could be centrally configured and controlled, although they don’t have to be. Lucid also said that it looked at other enterprise plug-load products, as well as residential smart plugs that claim they can work in commercial settings, and Enmetric was the only product that met its needs.

The frequency of Enmetric’s system might seem redundant for shutting down a task light when it’s not in use, but there are advantages, according to Bermudez. At that frequency, Enmetric can tell its clients if a printer is malfunctioning, which could be costing a significant amount of money. No matter who the customer, Enmetric finds out that about 10 percent to 15 percent of devices are mistuned as soon as they are plugged into the system.

There are two settings with Enmetric’s technology. One is a schedule function, which the GSA saw the most savings with. Overall, most customers see a 15 percent to 25 percent savings in plug loads, which can take up half of a commercial energy bill, just by using the scheduling. GSA noted that it would have likely seen a larger savings for laptops and monitors, but it had already implemented a computer power management system earlier in the year.

There is another added level of tuning where Enmetric can tell a power strip to power down based on what happens at a specific plug. If the computer is plugged into the first spot, that outlet can sense if the computer goes into sleep mode or is unplugged. When that happens, some or all of the other outlets on the strip can power down. Bermudez said that Enmetric has also taken the sensitivity of electronic devices into account. “Part of our IP is around the way in which we cut the power,” he said. “It’s done in a graceful way that significantly reduces any power instead of just unplugging something.”

For GSA, which owns and leases more than 370 million square feet of building space, the value came from the scheduling, rather than the load-sensing feature. Part of the problem was in establishing the baseline where the load would be cut to other outlets, especially since computers pull different amounts of power during sleep mode based on their age and manufacturer.  

Most of Enmetric’s customers are just concerned with saving power, and therefore money, but others are using the technology to get a broader understanding of granular energy use -- and office use. Google and Lucid, for example, share the information with employees.

“Getting tenants and occupants to manage energy is even more effective when it is personal,” Michael Murray, Lucid’s chief executive, said in a statement. “In commercial buildings, plug loads can represent up to half of all electricity used. By empowering individual occupants to take ownership and control of their devices, especially during nights and weekends, we can take a huge bite out of a building’s overall energy consumption.”

Even if individuals aren’t involved in understanding their plug load, there are still other options to reap added value out of the smart strips. In many ways, Enmetric’s plug-load solution could be used as a proxy occupancy sensor. Data-obsessed Google is also using it to inform occupancy, which the company could eventually use to help size the HVAC systems of future buildings.

The technology is also OpenADR-compliant and could be used for demand response. Instead of turning off everybody’s task lights for a few hours, an office could potentially cycle through all of the laptops without leaving any single one unplugged for more than 20 or 30 minutes.

In the future, Enmetric does not see itself as being a company that will grow into a demand response or energy management platform for the entire building. Instead, it sees the partnership with Lucid as the first step toward being part of an ecosystem of integrated systems within a smart building, where different companies focus on their own area of expertise. “We don’t want to get too far out of our sandbox,” said Bermudez.

The Fisker Files: Funding and More

Wed, 09/26/2012 - 20:58

Fisker Automotive, maker of the sleekly styled Fisker Karma, an extended-range $100,000 luxury electric vehicle, continues to make news.

Fisker just added another $100 million in new venture funding, according to reports in the Wall Street Journal. That still-open funding round takes the firm's VC totals north of $1.2 billion, a figure that puts it into competition with the likes of Solyndra and a few others as most highly venture-funded company in the history of venture capital. That is not always an indicator of success. The firm has also drawn down $193 million of a DOE loan guarantee.

Previous investors in the firm have included Kleiner Perkins, NEA, Palo Alto Investors, A123 Systems, Ace Investments, the Qatar Investment Authority, as well as the VC banking services of Advanced Equities through solicitations to wealthy individuals as illustrated here:

Advanced Equities is relied upon by Kleiner, NEA, and other venture firms to fill out large capital-heavy rounds for startups like Fisker, Serious Materials, Bloom Energy, and SolFocus. Recently, the founders of Advanced Equities were fined by the SEC and lost their jobs for hugely overstating the sales backlog of fuel cell vendor Bloom Energy.

The new investment comes amidst a set of recent struggles for the startup, including recalls, stalled production and:

  • The company stopped work at its Delaware Project Nina plant and laid off 66 workers, as it could not further access its DOE loan guarantee. 
  • Fisker issued a recall for the Karma for a battery problem. About 1,500 Karma models have been sold.
  • Greentech Media captured some photos of a recent Fisker fire here. This incident was not related to any battery problem, according to the firm and a third party.
  • Fisker is on its third CEO.
  • Fisker is also tied to the struggling and recently rescued battery maker A123



The Illinois Student Assistance Commission, an entity which administers a $1.1 billion prepaid college savings plan accessed by tens of thousands of families in Illinois, made a $10 million direct investment in the luxury hybrid company, according to Crain's Chicago Business. According to the article, the Commission "expects to lose more than half of its $10 million investment in luxury hybrid-car startup Fisker Automotive."

The original investment, once valued at $14 million, is anticipated to lose about two-thirds of that value with the recent Round E funding round. The commission "changed its investment policy in June to forbid future direct investments or co-investments in private companies, believing they are not appropriate for a public fund like College Illinois."



Consumer Reports just published its test report on a $107,850 Fisker Karma and found it "plagued with flaws." The nonprofit, independent organization wrote, "Compared with other luxury sedans, the Karma has tight confines and limited visibility, and a badly-designed touch-screen system makes the dash controls an ergonomic disaster."

The review continued:

"Although we found its ride, handling and braking performance sound and it has first-class interior materials, the Karma's problems outweighed the good," according to Jake Fisher, Director, Consumer Reports Auto Test Center. "Despite the car's huge dimensions, it's very cramped inside. The overcomplicated controls are frustrating and it's hard to see out. When it's running, the gasoline engine has an unrefined roar. And the Karma's heavy weight affects agility and performance, as the Karma lacks the oomph you expect."

The magazine favored the Porsche Panamera rather than the Karma in that class of vehicle. The reviewer did find the Karma's styling "stunning" but noted that the car "had a rough start in CR's testing when it suddenly became disabled on the organization's test track. Fisker replaced the battery pack in CR's test car, and later offered replacements for all 2012 Karmas. But CR's engineers have continued to encounter disconcerting intermittent glitches related to the gauges, warning lights, power windows and radio."

Fisker responded quickly to the review in CR. Here are excerpts from the company's statement.

The Karma impressed CR’s evaluators with its outstanding ride, handling and braking, which can be attributed to the car’s low, wide stance, race-inspired suspension and massive Brembo brakes. As the Karma is a concept car come to life, packaging and visibility will of course not be that of a minivan.

The Karma’s innovative powertrain technology lowers the center of gravity to give it a slalom time close to that of high performance sedans from the best European manufacturers. And the 66 MPGe recorded during testing -- the highest of nearly any production car -- is a great endorsement for Fisker as pioneers of this new luxury segment.

Plans are in place to improve sound quality, which is a new challenge for all silent-running EVs, while software improvements are being made to touch-screen controls to improve responsiveness and functionality


Like competitor Tesla Motors, Fisker's long-range future depends on its ability to pivot from its luxury sports car market entry-point to mass production of its Sedan.


What Will the 2012 Election Mean for the Future of US Clean Energy?

Wed, 09/26/2012 - 17:00

President Obama and Governor Romney have already put forth energy plans committed to increasing North American energy independence through an all-of-the-above approach, but many of the similarities end there. Obama and Romney have set distinct priorities regarding renewable energy sources (Greentech Media has extensively covered Romney’s energy platform). With the election approaching quickly, the question now turns to: "How we can catapult the U.S. into an age of advanced energy, regardless of who is POTUS in 2013?"

On Thursday, a Clean Energy Connections panel will address this challenge. What issues are on the table? First, the very definition of clean energy: both candidates agree that nuclear energy has a role in the country’s future, but does it count as renewable? With natural gas prices still low, how will fracking impact the cleantech economy? Other topics that the panel will address include the importance of the congressional elections and the ever-present role of Solyndra pre- and post-election.

One strong example of the policies playing out: wind power has become a polarizing issue. Romney has come out against the industry’s production tax credit (PTC), assailing the practice that he characterizes as using the tax code to pick winners. As wind power companies brace for the impact of the credit's December expiration, the solar industry continues to be haunted by consolidation even as it expands in terms of job numbers. Bill Clinton reminded the solar industry to get out and tell their story better -- but will they even get that chance under Romney?

Ultimately, CEOs in the cleantech industry must be willing to work with whoever holds sway inside the beltway. Still, the green landscape will appear dramatically different depending on the outcome of the election. And this election may itself depend on the state of cleantech.

Join the expert panelists by attending "Cleantech Elect: What the 2012 Election Will Mean for the Future of U.S. Clean Energy" on Thursday, September 27, 2012, from 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM at the Jerome L. Greene Performance Space, 44 Charlton Street (at Varick Street), New York. Not in the New York area? Bookmark this article and tune into the live stream that we’ll play beginning at 7:05 PM EDT. Speaker details below.

Opening Speaker:

  • Michele Wucker, President, The World Policy Institute

Featured Speakers:  

  • Travis Bradford, Founder, The Prometheus Institute for Sustainable Development

  • Tim Greeff, Vice President, Government Affairs, Advanced Energy Economy


  • Shayle Kann, Vice President, Research, Greentech Media

Take part in the discussion online by submitting comments and questions during the live broadcast via Twitter (@CleanECnyc, #cleanNRGx). Visit for more details.

Guest Post: The True Cost of Renewable Energy—Reality vs. the LA TImes

Wed, 09/26/2012 - 15:00

Yet again, the Los Angeles Times has published a hit piece on renewable energy masquerading as journalism in a front page article from Friday, Taxpayers, Ratepayers Will Fund California Solar Plants."
The article cites a Stanford economist for the conclusion that contracts for new large-scale solar projects are locked in at prices three to four times the market price of power: "But outside experts, including Wolak, the Stanford economist, estimate that Ivanpah power (a large solar project currently under construction) is priced at $90 to $130 per megawatt-hour -- three to four times the cost of electricity in the state last year."
This is a highly misleading apples-to-oranges comparison, and Wolak should know better. Spot market power prices are indeed quite low at this point, but that is not the appropriate comparison. Spot market prices are by definition short-term, very different than the long-term market that includes solar power contracts.
Very few energy plants (renewable or conventional) are built to serve the spot market. The point of a long-term contract for power is that it's secure power, and utilities enter into long-term contracts because they can then rely on that power for many years to come, as they are required to do by various state law and policies regarding long-term power procurement (see, for example, the Long-Term Power Procurement proceeding, R.12-03-014, at the CPUC). Long-term contracts are commonly entered into for conventional generation, as well as renewable energy.
The bottom line is that the contracts that the LA Times article derides as “three to four times” the price of market power are in fact at or below the long-term market price of electricity from status quo natural gas power plants. The state's Market Price Referent (MPR) structure is the former methodology for determining whether renewable energy contracts are cost-effective or not, and it applies to the BrightSource Ivanpah contract because that contract was entered into under this methodology. The MPR is the calculated cost of power from a new 500-megawatt natural gas plant. The 2012 MPR for a 25-year contract is $0.09274 per kilowatt-hour, down about 15 percent from the last (2009) MPR table due to declining natural gas prices.
The exact pricing for BrightSource and other long-term renewable energy contracts is not public, and this figure should be public -- that much I agree with in the article. However, the CPUC, at the behest of the utilities and ratepayer advocacy groups like the Division of Ratepayer Advocates (DRA) and TURN, insist that contract prices be secret for three years in order to avoid having project developers simply bid values around known prices rather than the lowest prices they can bid and still have a viable project. I disagree with this conclusion, but it is the rule at this point.
Even though the exact prices are confidential, the approved contracts include a statement as to whether the contract is above or below the MPR. BrightSource's contract as approved by the CPUC would not exceed the MPR, and is thus, by definition, cost-effective.
The 2009 CPUC resolution approving the PPA states: "Based on expected online dates of 2012 and 2013 for 25-year contracts, the expected levelized price for the projects do not exceed the 2008 MPR. The MPR is used by the Commission to evaluate the reasonableness of prices of long-term PPAs for RPS-eligible generation." (I explain the term “levelized” below.)
The MPR value used to determine cost-effectiveness for the BrightSource contract is higher than today's MPR values because the price of natural gas has come down so much. However, hindsight is 20/20, and there was no way in 2008 to know that natural gas prices would come down so much -- as opposed to the vertiginous rise we’d seen up until 2008 (remember that oil hit record highs of $147 a barrel and natural gas over $13 in 2008?). This is the nature of the beast in long-term contracting and critics who complain about how prices are so much lower today than in 2008 are being disingenuous or don't know the facts about the background of long-term contracting.
The article also paints with an overly broad brush in criticizing the BrightSource project. I'm not a big fan of large-scale desert-based solar projects (I have no financial interest in or connection to the BrightSource or other large-scale solar projects) and the transmission required to bring them on-line. I'm a proponent of "community-scale" solar projects that don't require new transmission lines and can be located close to load (also known as "wholesale distributed generation"). However, the criticisms the article levels against BrightSource will surely bleed over onto solar in general -- and entirely unjustifiably.
Only very large renewable energy projects are able to obtain federal loan guarantees. The only incentives generally available for medium and smaller-scale commercial solar projects are the 30 percent investment tax credit and accelerated depreciation. (These incentives are, by the way, far less valuable than the incentives available to new nuclear plants, which include a ten-year production tax credit, Price-Anderson risk insurance, accelerated depreciation, federal loan guarantees and others; I wish the LA Times or the New York Times would do a follow-up looking at the incentives for nuclear plants, and I’ve urged both papers to do so, to no avail as of yet).
Broader pricing issues for renewables
Now let’s look at the cost trends in solar over the last couple of years, to get an idea of the real cost situation and where we’re likely to go in the future. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) puts out a quarterly report on cost and installation trends in the U.S. Here’s their latest cost chart, through the second quarter of 2012, showing a remarkable 45 percent to 50 percent drop in cost for utility-scale solar (the segment BrightSource belongs in, as well as the community scale solar segment) since the start of 2010:


What about the longer-term trend? Well, there is a Moore’s law of renewable energy taking place, where solar panel prices drop about 10 percent for every doubling of global installed capacity. The long-term trend is clear: solar prices are falling and will keep on falling as we install more and more megawatts.
Wind power price declines have not been as consistent, with the lowest prices achieved in 2003 in the U.S., then rising far higher and since coming down again. A complicating factor for wind turbines is that their efficiency has improved considerably in recent years, allowing for higher prices per watt but declining prices per watt-hour (due to the increased efficiency). See Figure 2 for the long-term trends for wind and solar.


The California Energy Commission also issues a report every couple of years that compares the levelized cost of energy across different technologies. The levelized cost is the average cost of power produced over the expected lifetime of the facility, allowing an apples-to-apples comparison across technologies. The most recent report from early 2010 shows that all renewables except solar are as cheap or cheaper than natural gas power plants. Since 2010, natural gas costs and solar costs have dropped substantially (as Figure 1 shows, they’ve dropped by half since 2010), but the gap has closed remarkably for solar power in general, such that many contracts like the BrightSource contract are in fact coming in below the cost of power from a new natural gas power plant, which are referred to as either “simple cycle” or “combined cycle” plants in the chart below.


Summing up
Clearly, establishing what is “cost-effective” or not when it comes to renewables is not a simple matter. However, what is simple and clear is this: fossil fuel prices in the long term are only going up. And renewable energy prices are only going down. It is that simple. And as more farsighted jurisdictions like California, Germany, Portugal, etc. promote renewables with wise policy decisions, they help enhance the existing, very favorable pricing trends for renewables. Germany’s long-term feed-in tariff is almost singlehandedly responsible for the dramatic price declines in solar power because it brought the global solar power market to scale.
What California began in the 1980s, when the state enacted its own feed-in tariff under the federal PURPA law, Germany improved and expanded upon. California is now starting to regain its leadership in this space, after being in the doldrums for about twenty years. 
Renewable energy projects face many hurdles in today’s market in California and elsewhere, including:

  • Hideously complex and expensive interconnection procedures
  • Very limited number of available power purchase agreements
  • An opaque incentive environment due to legislative uncertainty
  • Challenging permitting procedures, particularly in states like California that have a history of extremely rigorous permitting standards

If we are serious about tackling threats like climate change and peak oil, we’ll need to do everything we can to continue the remarkable growth in renewable energy and energy efficiency for another decade or two. We’ve got a lot of work still left to do.


Tam Hunt is an attorney specializing in renewable energy law. He owns the consulting firm Community Renewable Solutions LLC, based in Santa Barbara, California.

Which State Has the Best Solar REC Market?

Wed, 09/26/2012 - 14:00

One of the few remaining drivers for the growth of renewables is the individual state mandate, called a Renewable Energy Standard (RES) or a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), requiring utilities and other load serving entities (LSEs) to obtain a specific portion of their power from renewables by a specific date.

Some states allow LSEs to meet a portion of their obligation with renewable energy credits (RECs), and REC trading markets are emerging. Sixteen states and D.C. have specified a portion of the renewable requirement for solar alone. Seven of those states have markets specifically aimed at the trading of solar RECs (SRECs).

“The intent of the RPS legislation,” explained Reznick Think Energy President Mark Crowdis, “is to promote the installation of new solar systems. Buying and selling of SRECs supports that.”

Reznick Think Energy works with renewables investors and developers. Its interest is not in playing SREC markets, which can seem risky and complicated, but in seeing that solar builders get the additional economic benefit of SRECs.

According to SRECTrade and GTM Research’s Q2 2012 SREC Market Monitor, “the SREC model as a mechanism to promote solar growth has become a major part of solar finance [and] will continue to have a significant impact.”

In states with SREC markets, Crowdis said, solar developers currently have four primary revenue sources: The 30 percent investment tax credit, accelerated depreciation, the sale of electricity, and SRECs.

Crowdis, who has been involved with renewable energy since 1997, was involved in a 42-kilowatt project on a big-box retail store in Pennsylvania in 1999, possibly the first SREC sale. “It was extremely small,” he laughed, “but at the time that was the largest PV system east of the Mississippi.”

More than 30 states have mandates, Crowdis explained, but many don’t have an alternative compliance payment (ACP), which, he said, “is a cornerstone.” It is the penalty LSEs must pay if they don’t meet the solar requirement by building new solar generation or purchasing SRECs.

If the ACP is so low an LSE “can just pay the penalty or they have no penalty cost,” Crowdis said, “utilities and others are not incented to buy.” The ACP, Crowdis added, “sets the top of the market, the high price for the market. If somebody tries to sell SRECs at a higher price, people will just pay the ACP.”

If the market is undersupplied, Crowdis said, “the SREC value will increase close to the ACP. And if the market is oversupplied, the price will remain low until there is demand. The way we see it,” he explained, “the market will be just like natural gas: the market gets undersupplied and the price goes up. People build out natural gas facilities, they oversupply the market, the value of natural gas decreases and the cycle starts over again.”

Each of the seven states that has an SREC market has a different market structure. “It’s sort of like the Articles of Confederation, where every state decides to do their own approach,” Crowdis said, “but the whole SREC market approach is new. States are still grappling with it.”

New Jersey’s SREC program, GTM Research noted, was what drove it past California to become the largest U.S. retail solar market.

Crowdis likes the New Jersey model, he said, because “it is an active market mechanism” and “is going to interact with supply and demand.” Four things, he explained, make it good.

“One is they have a schedule for SREC compliance over a long period. Another is they have a schedule for ACP through 2028.”

Third, he said, “they have a significant amount of solar set aside. If the market is too small, people are not going to buy. The solar requirement is about 2 percent of energy in the year 2014 and it goes up to 4.1 percent in the year 2028.”

Fourth, he said, recent legislation requires LSEs to get approval from the state Board of Public Utilities (BPU) for large projects. “If utilities just build large systems, they can flood the market and there is no opportunity for anybody to get anything built.” The new legislation, he said, allows the BPU to manage that.

“He's right that you have a long-term ACP schedule,” agreed GTM Research Vice President Shayle Kann, who guided GTM Research’s Q2 report, “but you also have an extremely volatile market with no correction mechanisms built in. The Massachusetts model has self-adjustment clauses, limits large systems and excludes other states. That said, it doesn't go out as far.” Kann also likes auction-based SREC procurement programs like that of Delaware.

“Over the long term,” Crowdis said of New Jersey’s market, “it will be much more stable. It was up to $600 per megawatt-hour, and now they are down to less than $90 per megawatt-hour. As the supply of solar matches the requirement, the market will normalize.”

Ohio and Pennsylvania, Crowdis noted, allow people to import SRECs from other states. “What has happened, especially in Pennsylvania,” he said, is they have flooded the market, the prices are extremely low, and they can’t get systems built. If they had closed off the state, like New Jersey, they would have been able to maintain higher prices.”

Going forward, existing SREC markets “will evolve, and other states will create SREC legislation,” Crowdis said. “This SREC approach is going to continue to grow. The big question is how much states will try to manage it.”

For more information on the SRECTrade/GTM Research SREC Market Monitor, visit

How Many Meters Are in That Contract, Exactly?

Wed, 09/26/2012 - 13:00

Utilities are treading carefully into smart metering these days, whether in the domain of gas, electricity or water. The slow moves mean that vendors increasingly see smaller contracts as notable victories.

In water-constrained Australia, advanced water metering is a growing market as municipalities look to increase efficiency in water use. The result is that the largest cities in Australia -- Melbourne and Sydney -- are contracting for new water meters.

The win is potentially a total of millions of meters. If you give a quick read of the press releases, savvy meter manufacturers champion their large advanced metering contracts in all corners of the globe. But sometimes, on closer inspection, the contract -- or the technology delivered -- is not what it seems. 

The technology for gas and water is not necessarily as advanced as the smart meters in the electricity sector. In Australia, some of the biggest recent headlines aren’t about true smart grids (or even smart meters at all), if "smart" is defined as embedded intelligence, capable of two-way communication.    

Whether gas, electric or water, nearly every very large smart meter award in recent memory goes to a consortium of companies. There are few huge contracts these days where just one vendor is the sole recipient (Silver Spring’s contract with ComEd earlier this year is a notable exception).

Down in Australia, Itron recently announced that it won a contract for Melbourne regional water companies to provide advanced water meters. A few weeks earlier, Elster issued a nearly identical announcement. 

When it comes to smart water meters, "smart" is not exactly the same as it is with electric smart meters, which offer two-way communication. Many smart water meters use AMR technology, which offers one-way digital reads.

"With electric meters, there is a greater delineation between legacy AMR systems and true 'smart’ two-way systems and the applications which they enable,” said Zach Pollock, smart grid analyst with GTM Research. “While electricity and water are both essential commodities, electricity must be produced, whereas fresh water is a natural resource that has traditionally been undervalued and supplied without much afterthought. Furthermore, the marginal cost of producing electricity increases exponentially near the end of the supply/generator stack, making advanced smart grid applications that can shave, shift or mitigate peak demand lucrative for utilities, and ultimately resulting in faster payback periods for two-way electric systems -- in addition to the billing related cost savings -- than for two-way water systems.”

Itron noted that its EverBlue Cyble radio module for water and gas meters, which is what is being used in the majority of the Sydney deployment, could be upgraded into a two-way system, according to Sheena Trumble, Itron general manager in Australia. Elster is providing its V100/V300 volumetric water meters, which can be upgraded with AMR technology if the utility chooses.

Overall, the norm is to offer one-way digital systems for water that can be upgraded down the road. “With water, the initial focus has been on conservation and leakage detection, making one-way systems sufficient for the time being,” said Pollock. 

Earlier this year, Itron won a contract with Sydney Water to supply 40,000 meters per year for three years, with a possible seven-year extension. In a release about the agreement, Itron noted that Sydney Water serves more than 4.6 million people, although the initial contract will be for only 120,000 meters. 

The issue of actual contract size is hardly limited to water meters, Australia or any particular vendor. In Brazil, where vendors salivated over the potential of more than 60 million meters being replaced by smart meters, the government ruled last month that smart meters would only be mandatory for new customers and would remain optional for others. Many companies had already issued vague press releases about their sizeable wins in the Brazilian market, with more to come. The “more to come” and even the size of some of the initial contracts now seems up for some debate. China, like Brazil, is another country where international companies are forging alliances to access the market, although everyone is still waiting for a big win.

In Europe, which has mandated smart meters by 2020, smart grid spending is expected to grow by €6.8 billion ($8.3 billion) per year by 2016, according to GTM Research. Although some countries, like Germany, are rolling back on smart grid spending overall, there are still expected to be 100 million smart meters in coming years. In the U.S. municipal market, 70 percent of utilities could install smart meters in the next five years, according to GTM Research. 

Even with millions of smart meter contracts potentially up for grabs in the next eighteen months, utilities will likely hedge their bets by choosing multiple technologies. In March, Iberdrola picked seven companies to supply meters for its rollout of one million smart meters. A pilot is also no guarantee of a win. Political upheaval and public backlash against all things related to utilities also have a way of throwing off even the most well-researched forecasts.

Falling LED Cost Yields Virtual Device Efficiency Gains

Wed, 09/26/2012 - 11:59

Falling LED prices are yielding an unexpected bonanza for system developers: a “virtual” gain in device efficiency, which can be as much as 50 percent, or even more in some cases.

LED systems have traditionally run below the LED datasheet efficiencies. In addition to power conversion losses, LED efficiency drops as they are driven harder, and also as they run hotter. The former phenomenon, called “droop,” follows a cube law (and is currently ascribed to a phenomenon known as indirect Auger recombination). A cutting-edge LED, when driven at its nameplate power rating, might output only 60 percent of its nameplate efficiency rating, which is often specified at reduced drive level. Similarly, other physics effects cause output to fall dramatically with increasing temperature. In a case recently brought to the attention of Greentech Media, a special-application LED lamp that used only passive fin-cooling showed a 30 percent increase in output when customers started pointing fans at the units.

High-power LED models from players such as Cree or Osram have cost as much as $4.00 in recent years. At such prices, the LED cost dominated the bill of materials for a product. Designers were under intense financial pressure to reduce the LED count by driving the devices harder. A part such as a Cree XPG might end up being driven at 1.0 or even 1.5 amps, when it could get rather higher efficiency at, say, 0.35 amps. Similarly, the cost of the LEDs left very little budget for cooling measures. Heatsinks were often undersized, and advanced measures such as heat pipes, nanomaterials, and smart fans were usually out of the question.

At Strategies in Light 2012, Philips speaker Dirk Vanderhaeghen, presenting on automotive headlights in the High-Brightness Technology session track, remarked, “The end result of practical realities is that designs have come out at little more than half the theoretical efficiency of the emitters.”

Think 60 lumens per watt, instead of 120.

Now, however, with 3 to 5 watt high-brightness LED prices dropping, in some cases as low as $0.90 (particularly for new, cost-optimized devices such as the Cree XBD), the game is rapidly changing. Designers can convince management to use more emitters, drive them less, and allocate budget for improved cooling. CEO Kevin Wells of Lumigrow Inc., a maker of high-power LED greenhouse fixtures, states, “We can now afford to crank the LED count in a way we never could before.”

In another recent example, a pending off-grid lighting design by Simplistic/Alglo, based on a Cree XPG, was initially specified to drive the LEDs at only 0.2 amps for extreme efficiency in a battery-dependent environment. While this was later increased somewhat, drive levels this low for an XPG would rarely have been dreamed of in previous years.

Power conversion may instead eventually come to dominate the budget of the LEDs (as with solar PV), causing a whole new wave of innovation pressure.

The hidden bonanza of “virtual efficiency” will be an important game changer for LED applications, particularly as Haitz’s law (the Moore’s law of LED) reaches physics limits to efficiency in the coming years.

With the Department of Energy setting an LED manufacturing cost reduction goal of 20 to 1 for the coming decade, drive levels low enough to yield over 200 lumens/watt are likely to become feasible.

Echelon Launches Apps for the Smart Grid

Wed, 09/26/2012 - 11:29

There’s a big push in the smart grid industry to find ways to make sense of the flood of data coming from smart meters, grid sensors and other devices. One big question in tackling this challenge is whether it’s better to collect and analyze that data via a centralized system, or to build at least some of those “big data” capabilities into the grid devices themselves.

On Wednesday, smart grid and control networking company Echelon (ELON) launched a set of new software applications aimed at providing that decentralized approach to data integration. Essentially, the San Jose, Calif.-based company says its apps can serve some fundamental utility needs -- distribution transformer monitoring, outage detection and low-voltage network loss detection -- via Echelon’s smart meters and the network that controls them.

Echelon isn’t the first smart metering vendor to promise this kind of multi-functionality. Silver Spring Networks does it for utility customers like AEP and FPL, for example, and Elster does it for Entergy and Dominion Virginia Power. Meter data management software (MDMS) from the likes of eMeter (now part of Siemens), Ecologic Analytics (now part of Toshiba’s Landis+Gyr) and others is built with the goal of supporting such functions, and IT giants such as Infosys, SAP, IBM, Oracle, Microsoft, Cisco and others are working on smart grid “big data” analytics on a grand scale.

Echelon’s smart meters and control nodes can also deliver their reams of data to central data warehouses and analytics platforms like these, Varun Nagaraj, Echelon’s senior vice president of product management and marketing, said in an interview this week.

But for the utility that doesn’t want to invest in a multi-million-dollar IT project like that, Echelon’s new smart grid apps can provide a faster, more modular approach to providing the same kind of functionality, he said. That’s particularly important for meeting the needs of smaller utilities that can’t afford the upfront investment, or the ongoing IT support, to manage a full-blown back-end software application, he said.

Nagaraj highlighted the new transformer monitoring application as a big need for its customers in Europe and Asia, where distribution transformers tend to be a lot bigger and serve a lot more customers than the small, pole-mounted distribution transformers familiar in the United States. That makes them expensive enough to justify some kind of remote monitoring capability, he said.

Echelon’s powerline carrier technology links lots of end-point meters to a single central meter, most often located at these large distribution transformers. Echelon’s devices already collect lots of power quality data that it’s making available to utilities using its network, he noted.

But the new app can integrate even more data, such as transformer oil temperature and quality monitoring data, or even physical data, like whether or not the transformer’s door is properly locked, he said. While Echelon doesn't capture that data in its own devices, it’s built to integrate it at the edge node, then send back critical data to the utility central control.

Likewise, Echelon’s outage detection and anti-tampering apps, while far from unique in the industry, could be a nice add-on for utilities in markets like India, South Africa and Brazil, where power theft (also known as “non-technical losses”) can add up to a significant cost for utilities.

The big question, of course, is how Echelon’s existing and new smart grid customers will put these new apps to work. Echelon hasn’t been able to crack open the U.S. market beyond a single project with big utility Duke Energy, but it has a big share of the market in Europe, particularly in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe.

Another big question is how Echelon’s apps concept, which it has been promoting since 2010, will be taken up by its metering partners abroad. Echelon has been licensing parts of its core technology to meter manufacturers such as China’s Holley and Brazil’s ELO Sistemas Electronicos in hopes of driving future sales of equipment, software and services.

GTM Research and Howard Scott Launch The US Utility Handbook 2012

Wed, 09/26/2012 - 07:00

GTM Research and Howard Scott (author of The Scott Report) today launch The U.S. Utility Handbook 2012: A Complete Reference of Electric, Gas and Water Utilities, a new part of The GTM Scott AMI Market Tracker. The Market Tracker is a subscription service providing readers with strategic data and analysis on AMI and utility smart grid markets in North America, and helping them to understand the competitive advanced metering landscape and grid implications of today’s widespread AMI deployment for utilities and vendors.

At 150 pages, the new handbook is an annual reference guide produced to address the utility market's need for a comprehensive resource encompassing the strategic operating data for all of the electric, gas and water utilities in the U.S. The report includes:

  • Top 25 utility rankings
  • Annual demand by type of utility
  • Number of customers served by each utility
  • Sales and revenue by utility
  • Sales and revenue by end-use sector
  • Parent companies for each utility
  • Locations and geographic areas served
  • Utility-specific contact information

Due to the rapidly changing nature of the smart grid market, the data provided in the handbook is essential to strategic decision-making. “It’s comprehensive, easily accessible, and spans all utility sectors, addressing potential business opportunities for smart metering and other smart grid applications,” says Zach Pollock, the report’s analyst. “As larger utilities complete the initial wave of smart grid projects in the U.S., the market will become more fragmented, with less transparency into remaining opportunities.”

For more information on The U.S. Utility Handbook 2012 and to purchase a copy, visit

FIGURE: Report Utility Demographics

SourceThe U.S. Utility Handbook 2012

Interested in subscribing to The GTM Scott AMI Market Tracker? Click here to learn more.

Update: Sharp to Sell Off Solar Developer Recurrent Energy for $321M

Tue, 09/25/2012 - 22:50

Sharp Corporation is looking to sell solar project developer Recurrent Energy for approximately $321 million as part of a reorganization, according to reports from the Kyodo News agency. Recurrent has a solar project portfolio of 500 megawatts and a pipeline of 2.5 gigawatts, according to the firm. 

When Recurrent Energy was purchased by Osaka-based Sharp in 2010, it was happy news for the solar industry and, to some extent, the venture capitalists investing in the solar space. Sharp paid $305 million for a 100 percent stake in Recurrent Energy, a solar project developer. Investors in Recurrent included Mohr Davidow Ventures and Hudson Clean Energy Partners. It was MDV's first greentech exit.

The acquisition was part of a trend by upstream solar manufacturers to move downstream and capture some of the value in installation and project development. This charge was led by First Solar, SunPower, and later MEMC's acquisition of SunEdison and Hanwha's downstream plays.

Sharp has been a solar cell producer for 50 years and was once the world's largest producer of cells and panels -- prior to China's domination of the market.

The original acquisition seemed to effectively bring together two companies that were both in need of strong allies. Sharp was one of the largest and historically strongest solar module makers in the world and Recurrent was one of the largest independent solar power project developers. With Recurrent, Sharp had a group that could bid on solar power projects, and then build them with Sharp modules. Recurrent had a 2-gigawatt product pipeline: that could sure soak up a lot of modules.

Sharp made this acquisition but never expressed the intent to "capitalize on the synergies between Recurrent and Sharp Solar," in the words of GTM Research's Senior Solar Analyst Shyam Mehta. Instead, Recurrent remained independent from Sharp's solar business with the ability to build its pipeline with external modules - and was highly successful in doing so.

Update: Sept. 25, 7 p.m. PT

Recurrent CEO Arno Harris gave us this comment:

“With almost 700 megawatts of contracted projects and a 2.5-gigawatt project pipeline, Recurrent Energy’s business is strong, profitable and growing,” said Arno Harris, CEO, Recurrent Energy. “We continue to meet and exceed our business goals as we build out our contracted project portfolio. To date we have secured almost $2 billion in project finance commitments from third parties and have ample capital to execute on all existing projects.”

“Recurrent Energy has excellent and long-standing relationships with the major financial institutions engaged in the energy sector, and we have every confidence, based on our industry-leading position in North America and our strong profitability, that Recurrent Energy will retain the interest of financial sponsors, whether Sharp, a new sponsor, or a combination of the two.”

“The manufacturing side of the solar industry is experiencing some growing pains, but cost reductions continue to drive a robust market for leading developers like Recurrent Energy,” continued Mr. Harris. “Realignment is a natural part of industry maturity , which will ultimately unlock tremendous value, stimulate a new era of growth and make solar a pillar of mainstream energy markets.”

The GTM Research solar analyst team adds, "Recurrent Energy has 223 megawatts of utility projects contracted and operating in the U.S., placing it among the top ten utility scale developers in the country. However, Sharp's stake in Recurrent has not created a captive pipeline for its modules -- the majority of Recurrent's current pipeline utilizes modules from Suntech and Yingli. While this was the intent expressed by Sharp from the first announcement of the acquisition, an opportunity to use Recurrent as a throughput enabler may have been missed."

More details in GTM Research's utility PV tracker here.

Solar Goliath: Europe Accounts for 70% of Global PV

Tue, 09/25/2012 - 18:00

The solar power sector is a topsy-turvy one, with companies, subsidies and technologies rising and falling. But there’s no question about what region has been driving a market that, overall, continues to grow: It’s Europe.

As of the end of 2011, the European Union accounted for 70 percent of the cumulative solar photovoltaic capacity installed worldwide -- 51 gigawatts out of 70 gigawatts -- according to a new EU report [PDF].


Image via EU Joint Research Centre

Germany gets much of the credit for European PV dominance; a separate report released this week said 320 megawatts installed in August pushed the German total to more than 30 gigawatts.

Smaller countries are nowhere in the same league, but some are showing steep growth. A division of the Danish Ministry of Affairs said this month that thanks to net metering instituted in 2010, Denmark will reach its 2020 goal of 200 megawatts capacity this year. The government also said that according to major energy companies in the country, the country will have 1 gigawatts of solar installed by 2020 and 3.4 gigawatts by 2030.

Impressive as these totals are, the European Union report highlights how far solar power has to go to become a major contributor to electricity production. A statement [PDF] that accompanied the report notes that solar production amounts to about 2 percent of the EU’s electricity needs -- equivalent to Austria’s demand. But it is making up ground, as this chart shows:

Image via EU Joint Research Centre

In addition, the report notes that in Germany and Italy, “the installed PV capacity will exceed 30 percent and 20 percent of the installed thermal power plant capacities, respectively. Already on May 25, 2012, more than 22 gigawatts of solar power were on the German grid, covering more than 30 percent of the total electricity demand at noon. Together with the respective wind capacities, wind and solar together will exceed 60 percent and 30 percent, respectively.”

The report also puts a spotlight on the confusing state of the solar manufacturing sector, both in Europe and abroad.

“Despite the fact that about three dozen companies declared bankruptcy, stopped production or announced a scale-back or cancelation of their expansion plans for the time being, the number of new entrants into the field, including some large semiconductor or energy-related companies, overcompensated [for] this,” the EU analysis says. “At least on paper, the expected production capacities are still increasing.”

What’s driving this optimism among manufacturers?

“Even with the current economic difficulties, the number of market implementation programs worldwide is still increasing,” the report says. This, as well as the overall rising energy prices and the pressure to stabilize the climate, will continue to keep the demand for solar systems high. In the long term, growth rates for photovoltaics will continue to be high, even if economic frame conditions vary and can lead to a short-term slowdown.” 

The result for buyers has been nothing but good news, as prices have plunged, although the report notes that the average system price for small systems (under 100 kilowatts) ranged from $2.30 per watt in Germany to at least $6.00 per watt in California and Japan.


Image via EU Joint Research Centre

“According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), one reason for the higher prices in California and Japan is the fact that installers are not passing on the full benefit of PV system price decline to their customers,” the report says. “BNEF expects a further price reduction there in line with the decrease of incentives.”

One thing the report doesn’t get into is the issue of trade skirmishes over solar. China has become the big dog when it comes to manufacturing, now accounting for more than half of the world’s PV production -- a number that could rise to more than 61 percent by 2015, the report says. That’s led to preliminary trade sanctions in the United States, and the initiation of a probe by EU authorities.


Editor's note: This article is reposted in its original form from EarthTechling. Author credit goes to Pete Danko.

Silver Spring Networks Partners Up (More) With eMeter

Tue, 09/25/2012 - 13:46

It seems like just yesterday we were writing about Silver Spring Networks’ latest partnership. Close -- actually, it was five days ago.

Without a week of breathing room, Silver Spring continues to add to its roster of interoperability, this time with Siemens-owned meter data management business, eMeter. 

The two companies will integrate eMeter’s EnergyIP platform with Silver Spring’s UtilityIQ system in a standard adaptor for “out of the box” interoperability, according to the announcement coming out of DistribuTECH Brazil. 

"We are excited to add Silver Spring Networks to our expanding ecosystem of commercially available, off the shelf, interoperable smart grid solutions," Shannon Amerman, Vice President Global Alliances at eMeter, said in a statement. 

The MDM provider counts various AMI partners, including Elster, Itron (NASDAQ: ITRI) and Landis+Gyr. It’s also not the first time eMeter and Silver Spring are working together. 

In 2008, Silver Spring Networks joined eMeter’s IntegratedMDM program. ““The purpose of eMeter’s IntegratedMDM program is to foster closer cooperation and interoperability between eMeter’s EnergyIPTM, the leading independent meter data management system, and leading AMI technologies,” Larsh Johnson, eMeter CTO, said at the time of the announcement. 

Four years was a lifetime ago in smart grid, and interoperability has turned out to be more of a problem than many utilities would care to think about in the past few years. The general frustration of utilities has pushed vendors to actually try and integrate products -- and not just talk about it -- and more end-to-end solutions, so that smart grid projects can have a robust business case.

Silver Spring and eMeter are hardly alone. Every leading smart grid company boasts a network of partners and integration, although there is increasing scrutiny about just how integrated the products really are. With the announcement last week between Silver Spring and Dominion’s Edge software, there were also stronger promises of “out of the box” integration. Siemens recently partnered with Chinese metering company Wasion, in part to gain eMeter access to the potentially huge Chinese market. 

Silver Spring has raised just under $300 million to date, and intends to raise as much as $150 million on the Nasdaq, for a valuation that could be as much as $3 billion. That is, if the IPO ever happens, which the rumor mill is increasingly skeptical of.

One of the keys to market share growth in coming years will be effective integration, an aim that Silver Spring has been making an effort to clarify with its partner network, which rates partners as "platinum," "premiere" or "associate." Silver Spring has more than 60 partners, for everything from distribution automation applications or home area applications.

The key now is whether Silver Spring’s ecosystem will help it to land big contracts -- or to layer services onto the contracts it already has.