Open innovation in information technology is key in developing the smart grid, the recently appointed US Chief Technology Officer said yesterday [22 May].

Todd Park, who took up his position in March this year, said: “We’re seeing a democratization of entrepreneurship in spaces like healthcare and energy, and you can see a rising tide of innovators that are all stripes.”

The Department of Energy yesterday announced the 56 submissions in the first round of its Apps for Energy competition to develop mobile and web-based applications “that utilize data from major utility companies to help consumers and businesses use less energy and save money.”

Some 12 million consumers can already access energy data from utilities since the government launched its Green Button initiative that could be used by software developers to provide user-friendly information on consumption and price.

But Park told the Connectivity Week conference that the Green Button initiative was just the start.

Using Smart Phones and Tablets to Save Money

“The goals are not just data oriented or for a bunch of apps, but a whole ecosystem that powers delivery or energy savings and energy efficiency. There’s a whole chain reaction if people have access to Green Button data that populates apps for services that help people understand opportunities to save money.

“It will go way beyond the apps on your iPhone – that might be the manifestation of it but it’s the whole value creation and that’s what we’re beginning to see.”

Software developers who had only recently begun to turn their attention to the energy industry would do “great things for America” through open-innovation “hackathons”.

“Hackathons have been compared to the new American Dream. Where else can you walk into a room unknown with an angel investor and business plan?”

Park told Breaking Energy that this approach was enabling utilities and government to move much faster than they could do alone.

“A philosophy that we’re really embracing in leadership with the president is the whole idea of open innovation. If government collaborates openly and unleashes the power of the private sector and non-profit sector and the public [it can accomplish more] than it can by itself.

“Green Button is a wonderful example with the goal of improved energy efficiency and energy outcomes, collaborating with utilities, innovators, entrepreneurs and commissions across the country to ensure that consumers and businesses can get access to their own energy data in a developable form and catalyse the use of that data.”

…this is an evolution and we’re trying to drive the investment where there’s the best value.” – Hoffman

In 2011, the federal government spent $79 billion on information technology (IT) and the DoE’s budget this year for spending on IT is $1.87bn. But much more is estimated to be required to fund the transition to a smart grid in the US.

Pat Hoffman, DOE assistant Secretary for the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability (OE), said that investment in IT was critical for smart grid implementation, particularly to integrate more renewable sources and electric vehicles.

“Grid management will be more complicated as renewable energy is a variable energy source and causes dynamic changes in the electric sector that we’re going to have to manage on a real-time basis. IT provides the capability to go into significant investment in renewable energy technologies with more confidence thanks to visualization, grid analytics and predictability of weather and system operations.

“We are heading in that direction, we’re building more tools – but this is an evolution and we’re trying to drive the investment where there’s the best value.”