Welcome to the New World of the Smart Grid


". . . real possibility that smart grid stocks will outperform the broader alt energy space over the next 12 months."

Perhaps ironically, it took one of the worst financial and economic crises of the past three decades to bring "the grid" into investor focus. To be sure, certain alt energy aficionados, such as Tom Konrad have been on this topic for a long time (Tom is actually the one who introduced me to the grid as an investment theme). However, it is fair to say that most investors, including alt energy investors, have not historically paid the grid a huge deal of attention.

Most people outside of alt energy and VC circles held, until recently, the Old World view of the grid. In the Old World, the grid was a collection of transmission and distribution systems (i.e., transmission towers, utility posts and wires) connected together by the odd utility substation. In the Old World, investments into the grid mostly took the form of maintenance capex by utilities, and there was little growth, at least in North America, beyond what was needed to keep up with economic and demographic expansion (2% to 3% per annum often offset by efficiency gains). Though antiquated and inefficient, the system mostly 'did the job' and the lack of coordination between various actors meant that no one would take the lead on massive investments required to upgrade the old infrastructure.

Enter the New World, the world of the smart grid, where the electric grid doesn't stop at the connection with your house or office building but can potentially extend all the way into nearly every electric device you use - if it can be plugged in, it can be made 'smart'. In the New World, IT capabilities are leveraged to optimize grid management. In effect, energy management, which used to rely on a closed system approach, is now integrated with the grid, opening a whole New World of possibilities.

Nearly immediately following the election, the new president pumped, as part of his American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, $4.3 billion into mostly New World grid opportunities. While this may seem small in comparison to the total size of the investment required to upgrade the grid (Old and New World) over the next couple of decades.

Besides the revenue that will flow in as a result of direct government expenditures, the impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will be felt for years to come as it jump-starts the industry.

Where does that leave investors? With the very real possibility that smart grid stocks will outperform the broader alt energy space over the next 12 months. Like other areas of alt energy, there are a growing number of ways to play the smart grid as larger cap firms with diversified revenue sources enter the space.

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