Smart grids are envisioned as the hub of a smarter, more sustainable and democratized electricity distribution system, a core element of making a transition from fossil fuel to cleaner, renewable energy sources. Investing in smart grids is also touted as being a significant source of relatively well-paying, clean tech jobs.
A study released Monday by the Silicon Valley Smart Grid Task Force indicates that these claims aren't unfounded. Breaking the smart grid industry into four parts: power management and energy efficiency, energy storage, local clean energy and delivery of electricity, the research indicates that the smart grid "is a job engine that California can rely on," says an Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) blog post.
Employment in Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area's smart grid sector rose 129 percent while total employment rose only eight percent since 1995. Local smart grid sector employment continued to grow even during the depths of the 2007-2009 recession, as national unemployment doubled from five percent to nearly ten percent. Manufacturing jobs in particular grew strongly, Task Force researchers found. More than half of Silicon Valley's smart grid jobs are in manufacturing, according to the study, which was conducted by Collaborative Economics
The Smart Grid Job Engine
Smart grid system pilot-testing and commercial installations continue to grow in the US, but questions regarding security and the actual benefits to consumers, along with the process of actually proving technologies in the field, continue to be constraining factors.
The public-private sector Silicon Valley Smart Grid Taskforce was created in June, 2010 by the City of San Jose, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and the Pacific Gas & Electric Co. as "a first step in aiding California's long-term environmental sustainability and economic development." Collaborative Economics' report aimed to determine the impact a nationwide smart grid roll out would have on Silicon Valley locally.
The Task Force research team concluded that Silicon Valley and the broader Bay Area "is well-positioned to be a leader in the development and deployment of smart grid-related technology and to reap the economic benefits of both."
That's not surprising really considering that major local employers, including Google, Oracle and Cisco, not to mention PG&E, Calpine, GE and Honeywell are all active in across the smart grid value chain.
The number of local businesses providing smart grid products and services increased 138 percent from 1995 to 2009, while the overall economy grew 82 percent. Smart grid business start-ups rose five percent with the addition of over 30 businesses between January 2008 and 2009.
Some 12,560 people were employed in the local smart grid sector in 2009, when the nation was smack in the middle of the last recession, four percent more than was the case in 2008. Manufacturing jobs accounted for at least 50 percent of the total.
Smart Grid Advantages
More recent indications are that the jobs markets in Silicon Valley and the Bay Area were much better able to withstand the recession and recover at a faster rate than the state or country as a whole.
Other findings in the Task Force's report include:
They listed the following among the advantages and benefits:
"The real-time information and responsiveness empowers consumers to better manage their electricity use. The efficiency gains result in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and the deferment or elimination of the need for 'peaker plants' which are brought on line to help meet demand peaks."
Photo courtesy of Silicon Valley Leadership Group
An experienced, independent journalist, editor and researcher, Andrew has crisscrossed the globe while reporting on sustainability, corporate social responsibility, social and environmental entrepreneurship, renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean technology. He studied geology at CU, Boulder, has an MBA in finance from Pace University, and completed a certificate program in international governance for biodiversity at UN University in Japan.