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Reflections on the Smart Grid Summit

By Jon Arnold (ICP) September 10, 2009
Since our first Smart Grid Summit took place a week ago, I’ve had time to reflect on the experience. My role as a telecom/tech analyst kept me busy the rest of last week during the ITEXPO, and with Labor Day behind us, it’s time to resume posting to the Smart Grid Portal.
 
Overall, both my ICP partner – Shidan Gouran – and myself – are quite pleased with how the Summit turned out.
 
As noted in earlier blog posts, the room was pretty full all day long, the speakers were first rate, and the audience was engaged. Being a launch event, there is always the anxiety that nobody will come, despite having a strong program. We were pleasantly surprised by the turnout, so I’d like to first thank each and every attendee who came out, most of whom stayed with us the full day.
 
That’s the first validation that we have a viable event here.
 
The second validation was the support we got from all our speakers, many of whom came from the East coast, and could only stay at the Expo for the day. We ran four very different panel sessions, plus a terrific keynote from Redline, and I’d like to think that for our attendees, it was time and money well spent. Another validation point related to the speakers was our sponsorship support, coming from Mocana, Redline Communications and the SIP Forum. We are especially grateful to this group, as they showed their support for our vision from the beginning, and we sure hope to have them back for the next Summit in January.
 
Finally, we got nice validation from the media – both conventional and social, in the form of articles, blog posts and Tweets, and we’ll be sharing as many of these as we can find on the portal. Related to this was all the support we got from our partner, TMC, who shared the risk with us to reach a new audience, and have invested considerable resources in launching both the Summit Web site and this portal. They also provided access to their video team, and we’ll be posting a series of video interviews from the Summit any day now.
 
For those of you who missed the Summit, I hope this piques your interest for January. We’re planning a two-day event that will be co-located at the ITEXPO, much like we did last week. Plans are already well along for an expanded roster of topics, new speakers, return speakers and high profile keynotes. With January being a few months out yet, we’ll have more time now to profile both leading and emerging Smart Grid companies on the portal, which will give you a better idea of what to expect in Miami. Perhaps most important of all, we fully expect to have broader participation from both utilities and telecoms, not just on the panels, but in the audience as well.
 
Regarding last week’s Summit, I wanted to wrap up by sharing my overall impressions and conclusions from the sessions:
 
Shidan and I kicked off the Summit with our welcome comments and vision for what we’re trying to achieve. The main idea is that unlike most Smart Grid events – which are utility-centric – we are striving to create a forum that brings utilities, telecom and IT into a common focus built around the role of communications technologies and the opportunities present in the Smart Home. It was also great to have Rich Tehrani with us to add his take on Smart Grid and how it fits into the bigger world served by the ITEXPO, which is now in its 10th year.
 
The Interoperability and Standards session was a great way to start the program. We had four strong speakers, sharing two disparate points of view about the utility of SIP for Smart Grid applications. This is a core Smart Grid issue, and the dialog got pretty animated on both sides. There’s a lot of ground to cover here, and we’ll give this more air in Miami, as well as here on the portal in the very near future.
 
Our second session was Energy Management in the Home, and it was equally interesting. We had two academics – from UCLA and Columbia – and two private companies – Ecobee and Control4, and they touched on a handful of key themes. Again, there is so much to explore here, not just for how we can benefit from Smart Grid, but also the privacy tradeoffs that come with that. The academic perspectives were particularly interesting, as many fundamental questions were raised about what we’re trying to achieve with Smart Grid and who really should be driving it.
 
After lunch, we resumed with Redline’s keynote about the role of wireless broadband. Kevin Suitor did a great job telling the WiMAX story, with some case study examples and how it compares to wireless solutions currently being used by utilities. He could have easily made this a day-long session, and if you missed it, I did a video segment with Kevin that will be running here soon.
 
The afternoon continued with two more strong sessions – Grid Security and Demand Response. In my mind, security is pretty much on par with interop/standards as a bedrock issue, and the panel provided a good overview of the challenges – not just for our privacy in the home, but for securing the very grid itself from the likes of hackers and cyber-terrorism. The latter is right out of James Bond, but is a very real concern if the Smart Grid evolves into a truly centralized architecture.
 
Demand Response was equally interesting, and in a way we saved the best for last. At the end of the day, money is what makes Smart Grid run, and the speakers did a great job illustrating how Demand Response is more than just a solution to manage the grid. The real value comes from creating financial incentives for end users to better manage their consumption, and these companies are doing this today. Not only does this open the door for new business models, but it also demonstrates why two-way, real time communications networks are so critical for the success of Smart Grid.
 
We wrapped up the day with an open forum, and I found this just as engaging as the panels. Some of the exchanges got pretty technical, and that’s to be expected once people start talking shop. Nobody was in a hurry to leave, and we picked up a few new ideas that may translate into topics for the next Summit. On that note, I’ll just conclude by saying that all ideas are welcome, and we’d love to hear your suggestions for future topics, speakers or companies you’d like to see next time around.

Jon Arnold is co-founder of Intelligent Communications Partners (ICP), a strategic advisory consultancy focused on the emerging Smart Grid opportunity. To read more of his Smart Grid articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Michael Dinan

Co-founder, Intelligent Communications Partners

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