Energy grids are modernizing at an accelerated pace, with smart infrastructure projects getting underway worldwide. In addition to the grid itself, whole industries hope to grow in prosperity as the smart upgrades consume their resources.
The smart grids will span installations from the giant electrical generating stations all the way down to smart home appliances. Ubiquitous communications and control will allow cloud computing resources to communication with energy efficient buildings, home energy management systems, and individual smart appliances anywhere on the Internet. By automatically balancing loads on the grid, shifting non-mission critical functions (like drying clothes) to off-peak hours, and by using local storage arrays to buffer peak-demand periods, future smart grids aim to both efficiently and reliably service urban and rural electricity users alike.
Smart grids will also be a necessity in order to accommodate the coming legions of all-electric vehicles that will be charging from the grid by the end of the decade, according to IC Insights. Grid modernization will also incorporate renewable energy sources and sinks--from photovoltaic solar panels and wind turbines to neighborhood fuel cells and liquid-battery storage arrays. IC Insights estimates include the entire smart-grid infrastructure, electrical storage systems, smart meters and IT investments needed to run it all.
Since the infrastructure will be smarter, it will require IT investments for the computers and networks controlling and coordinating the scheduling and balancing of loads on the grid. In addition, an increasingly diverse array of alternative generation and storage technologies are being accommodated, creating whole new industries.
Total smart grid expenditures today are under $100 billion annually, according to a new Research Bulletin from IC Insights Inc. Accelerated growth over the next four years will boost annual funding of smart grid infrastructure to nearly $200 billion.
Investments in smart grid infrastructure will be almost $100 billion in 2011, and will nearly double to $197 billion by 2015. (Source: IC Insights)
The semiconductor industry that enables smart meters to be smart will likewise almost double along with the smart grid itself. This market (including all semiconductor microchips used in smart grid projects) will grow from $524 million in 2010 to $1.1 billion by 2015, according to IC Insights. That represents a predicted average growth rate of 15 percent for the next four years.
Besides the microchips used in the computers and networks controlling the smart grid, semiconductor microchips will be the enabling technology in smart meters, as well as home-area and business energy-management networks. These microchips will include embedded processors, micro-controllers, wireless radio frequency (RF) chips, power transistors, flash memories, and communications chips. Already today, many semiconductor vendors are offering application-specific system-on-chip (SoC) solutions for smart meters that handle all communications with the grid, household appliances, smart wall plugs, intelligent thermostats, and energy-management systems.