The Looming Smart Grid Battle: Software vs. Services

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Includes: COMV, ENOC
by: Greentech Media

By Michael Kanellos

A fight over control of the home (and office) seems to be taking shape.

As time goes on, the world will likely see competition between companies like Tendril and Adura Technologies that make hardware and software for controlling power in buildings, and demand response service providers like Comverge (NASDAQ:COMV) and EnerNoc (NASDAQ:ENOC), which have independent networks that deliver “negawatts” of power to utilities in terms of reduced consumption.

The nub of the competition is that these companies provide technologies that can accomplish the same task. The hardware/software vendors effectively install equipment that lets utilities, with the cooperation of the residents, curb power to lights and appliances. Businesses and consumers can deploy these technologies themselves without a utility, but because of the subsidies and benefits utilities can offer, they will be invariably involved.

Without a middleman, the costs for adding this sort of functionality will be lower.

“We don’t think the utilities should be throwing the problem over the fence and outsourcing it,” asserts Adrian Tuck, CEO of Tendril. “We don’t see negawatts succeeding in the long-term.

"We will provide the utilities with the tools to do it themselves," he said.

Demand response providers tend to strongly disagree. One of the best pieces of evidence: demand response is growing. EnerNoc has more than 2.7 gigawatts under management. Having a demand response provider also gives a utility someone to point the finger at in times of crisis.

Like most aspects of smart grid, the issue will likely be determined by those ultimate, omniscient arbiters: the utilities. They will be the ones directly or indirectly footing the bill so the results from their trial and early commercial deployments will be crucial.

My personal view? After a few years of direct competition, the software vendors will find that it's easier to sell software to demand response companies than utilities, and utilities will enjoy the convenience of having a third party answer those pesky calls about why my TV doesn't seem as bright as it did after I joined your program. And Steve Chu will pop by to hand out checks to assuage any bruised feelings. Thus, everyone wins.