Companies aiming to improve how the electric grid distributes power from the plant to the home (admittedly not the flashiest of green-tech innovations) are in the midst of a funding rush to improve the grid's efficiency. The truth of it is that smart appliances, electric vehicles and renewable energy initiatives still require an efficient and clean grid to transport electricity from its source to its user. Though largely invisible to consumers' eyes, behind the socket a mini revolution, long in the making, may finally be gaining the same attention and support as all the solar and wind projects that we write about. Among the recent recipients of new financing is SmartSynch, a company that provides meters with wireless communication to both consumers and utilities and which yesterday secured $20 million.

From VentureBeat's nice synopsis of smart metering start-ups:

SmartSynch's chief technology officer, Henry Jones, says his firm's communication technology, which is installed in meters made by Elster, General Electric and Itron, has brought in about $15 billion in additional revenues for utilities so far.
Why modernize the grid? For one thing, enormous quantities of electricity are lost or wasted at numerous points along the transmission and distribution systems. A recent report from the Electric Power Research Institute found that energy efficiency improvements within the power sector could reduce overall electricity consumption by as much as 11 percent. To get better information about how sections of the grid are operating, some grid operators are turning to increasingly sophisticated monitoring devices that can communicate over long distances to convey data about electricity load and behavior. And on the green side of things, higher resolution data about electricity flow holds great promise for cutting the amount of power that's lost en route to consumers, and for easing how solar installations and wind turbines connect to the grid.

These innovations can also help the utilities save money. With customers more involved in keeping their electricity bills down and tracking when electricity is most expensive, utilities can in turn avoid investing in new fossil-fuel-fired power plants to meet demand as it grows.

Other promising contenders in the smart-grid space include Silver Spring Networks, GridPoint and eMeter.

Story by Sandra Upson. This article originally appeared in Plenty in May 2008. The story was added to MNN.com.

Copyright Environ Press 2008