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September 28, 2010

LA is Heating Up in More Ways than One



There has been a lot attention in the media about the heat wave washing over southern California right now. Yesterday saw record temperatures in Los Angeles – 113 degrees – wow! That’s hot even by Las Vegas standards, but add this to all of LA’s everyday smog and traffic congestion problems, and it’s not fun for anybody.

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Aside from being uncomfortable, this kind of weather leads to brushfires, which LA is all too familiar with, and of course, extra strain on the energy grid to keep power flowing and air conditioners going. As you’d expect in any city with heat spikes like this, cooling centers are quickly being set up to provide relief for people who, for a variety of reasons, cannot manage in such hot weather. Needless to say, these conditions create a lot of critical demands on municipal services, and given how dire California’s finances are these days, there’s a lot to be worried about.

Heat waves like this also put the spotlight front and center on utilities. California is at the forefront for smart grid and clean energy in the U.S., and current conditions will be an interesting indicator as to how far along they really are. As the temperature increases from morning to afternoon, energy demand will keep rising, and to avoid – or minimize – brownouts, everyone will have to pitch in.

Prior to smart grid technology, utilities would try to get the word out over mass media to encourage people to conserve energy or indicate the best times to do certain activities. That was reasonably effective, but utilities really had very little leverage, aside from throttling back power unilaterally.

Hopefully, the local utilities will be able to manage with minimal disruption, but this scenario creates a strong focal point around smart grid. One of the major benefits of smart grid is having intelligent, two-way communications networks.  Not only does this allow utilities to monitor network performance and pinpoint the location of problems, but they can communicate directly with subscribers. This is the driver for AMI deployments, and smart meters make it much easier for utilities to manage demand – and supply – especially around these spikes during the heat wave.

From our vantage point, this is a great opportunity for southern California utilities to show what’s possible with smart grid, and if they manage things well, I’d like to think this will drive further deployment of their programs, and more importantly, accelerate adoption among other utilities who are still sitting on the fence. Of course, I only wish for the best and hope that the people living through this are inconvenienced as little as possible.

Let’s also hope that this doesn’t adversely impact anyone’s plans around our Smart Grid Summit, which will be right in the middle of all this next week at the LA Convention Center. Aside from being our biggest event to date, you’ll get to hear first-hand from local utilities, which no doubt will have top-of-mind thoughts about how they’re coping with these conditions.

In addition to one of our lead keynotes from Sempra, we have speakers coming from Southern California Edison (News - Alert), LA Department of Water and Power, Sacramento Municipal Utility District, and CAISO - California Independent System Operator Corporation. Not to mention many locally-based vendors, investors and academics. Presuming the power holds up, there’s still time to register and join us, and of course to stay cool inside at the Convention Center.


Jon Arnold (News - Alert) 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 Erin Monda
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