SAN JOSE, Calif. After years of talk about smart electric grids, engineers and marketers are rolling up their sleeves and putting pen to paper.
A broad group of companies including giants Cisco Systems and Intel Corp. are working with utilities to draft proposals competing for $3.9 billion in grants recently announced by the Department of Energy. In addition, Cisco is actively engaged in discussions on defining new variations of Internet Protocol standards to serve electric utilities.
Both companies see opportunities for traditional and new products as smart grid projects roll out. The shift from today's analog grid to a future digital electric networks is "certainly one of those market transitions that [Cisco chief executive] John Chambers and other executives here are looking at very closely," said Jennifer Sanford, a Cisco policy executive working on smart grids.
"Every single one of our members is putting in for [DoE] funding" in some form, "and many are trying to team up to put out good proposals," said Katherine Hamilton, president of the GridWise Alliance, an ad hoc group of diverse utilities and companies including Cisco, IBM and Intel.
"There have been a bunch of projects approved by public utility commissions and then put on hold," Hamilton said. "In the first slug of funding, a lot of these shovel-ready projects will go forward," she added.
For its part, Cisco has formed a smart-grid board overseeing a wide variety of projects in the area. It is made up of several teams including one on standards and architecture issues that consists of at least 40 people from eight business units headed by Cisco fellow and former Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) chairman Fred Baker.
"We also have an energy-related tiger team formed just after the stimulus bill was passed by Congress," said Cisco's Sanford. "It has about 25 people on it, talking with utility partners about how Cisco can support them" in several projects vying for the DoE funds, she said.
"We are asking ourselves if there are other products and applications we should be working on, including how we should we address electricity in the home," said Baker of his team's work.
In early July, Cisco sent a letter calling for use of Internet Protocol in smart grids to George Arnold, the national coordinator of smart grid standards at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Cisco also sent a 20-page white paper pressing in part for adopting IPv6 to handle what is expected to be a rapid increase of smart meters.
The white paper also addressed a growing discussion about the need to tailor some IP standards to meet the needs of electric utilities.