New England's modern grid opportunity
The energy sector in New England is undergoing the most dramatic changes we have seen in more than a decade. In the electric sector alone, NStar and Northeast Utilities are merging, billions of dollars in transmission investments have bolstered reliability, and solar panels and wind turbines are cropping up from Boston City Hall to Walmart parking lots.These changes may reduce our reliance on foreign oil, lower our carbon emissions, and give consumers and businesses the tools to better manage their energy use. Along the way, they present unprecedented challenges to the way the electrical grid has been designed and operated.Drawing on decades of experience in technology development, this region is blessed with a growing cluster of clean energy companies, and investors and innovators that promise to propel our economy for decades.In the area of smart grid alone, our region is benefiting from more than $560 million in cutting-edge investments and demonstration projects. With these projects, regional companies, utilities and other organizations are designing, testing and deploying a range of new technologies."Smart grid" pilot programs in cities around New England are showing consumers the benefits of taking control of their energy use.The smart grid refers to the suite of technologies that enable consumers and businesses to track and control energy use. Sensors, meters and digital communications allow users to see in real time how much electricity and gas they use, how much it costs - and adjust their use to save energy and money.On a larger scale, these technologies allow New England's electric system operator to integrate new, clean energy resources such as wind and solar power, storage systems and electric vehicles.The Smart Grid Innovators Collaborative seeks to convene the three key players in this growing field to ensure the region captures opportunities, jobs and economic activity. Collaboration among technology companies, utilities and regulators will drive the success of this sector, and forward-thinking entrepreneurs are poised to profit.Each has an important role. Technology companies are developing the devices and software that make the smart grid work. Utilities are deploying the technology and integrating systems. Regulators are establishing standards and rules that build confidence among private sector investors in widespread adoption of the smart grid.In New England, we can capitalize on our financial, intellectual and human capital to grow the smart grid sector into a major part of our economy. Since the grid is organized and operated on the basis of our six-state region, we have the unique opportunity of demonstrating not just smart technology but also the best thinking of a range of smart regulators and the best experiences and practices of smart utilities. It is the intersection of these influences that will expand the modern, smart grid across the United States.Robert Halpin is founder of the Massachusetts Smart Grid Innovators Collaborative. For more information, visitmasgic.com.