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China Smart-Grid Spending Eclipses US' for First Time

Smart grid employees check equipment in Huaibei, Anhui province. | Image credit: China Daily

China spent more on smart grids than the US for the first time in 2013, with the $4.3 billion it invested accounting for nearly a third of the world’s total, Bloomberg reports.

Though global spending rose almost 5 percent to $14.9 billion, North American investment declined as much as 33 percent to $3.6 billion, according to data released Tuesday by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Smart grids permit power generators and users to monitor usage, which helps utilities to adjust supply to demand and reduce costs by saving energy in transmission. Bloomberg says China has installed almost 250 million smart meters, enabling customers to provide immediate feedback to utilities that are able to use the data to set pricing and smooth fluctuations in consumption.

“Asian and European markets will drive growth through 2020, while in North America the focus will continue to shift from hardware to software as utilities look to squeeze additional value out of the vast amounts of grid data now available,” Colin McKerracher, a senior analyst on smart technologies for energy at BNEF, said in a statement.

Europe is expected to have 180 million meters installed by the end of the decade from 55 million now, BNEF says.

Spending on distribution automation, technology used to locate and automatically fix faults on the grid, rose to $5.4 billion in 2013 from $4.4 billion in 2012, driven in part by the increased use of power generated from renewable sources.

A 2012 study by the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative, an industry group whose members include electric-utility companies and vendors of technology used to create “smart” power grids, found that energy efficiency is as important to low-income consumers as to the general population. The study also found that low-income consumers’ environmental attitudes align fairly closely with those of the general population.

Most low-income consumers (72 percent) believe that global warming is real, and that saving energy helps the environment (82 percent). 80 percent report that they try to minimize their impact on the environment through daily actions. A quarter of the low-income consumers surveyed for the study felt that the potential benefits of smart power grids — including preventing power outages, obtaining near real-time information on their energy use, and making it easier to connect renewable energy sources to the grid — were important enough that they would be willing to pay more for them.

In related news, Bosch recently expanded its offering beyond the design of home appliances to form a new company, Bosch Connected Devices and Solutions GmbH, for the Internet of things and services: The company will supply compact electronic products and software expertise designed to make devices and objects intelligent and web-enabled across a broad range of applications. It will initially focus on sensor-based applications for intelligently networked homes, or “smart homes,” as well as for activities in the fields of traffic, transportation and logistics.

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Based in San Francisco, Mike Hower is a sustainability strategist and storyteller on Edelman's Business + Social Purpose team where he works with some of the world's leading brands on corporate sustainability strategy and stakeholder engagement. With several years of… [Read more about Mike Hower]