George Arnold gave the clean tech keynote at TiECON East 2012 and he had the unenviable task of being the final speaker before cocktails and dinner on the last day of the event on June 1. However, he got his audiences’ attention pretty quickly when he started off by saying what he was about to talk about was a $2 trillion market opportunity over the next 20 years. With a room full of entrepreneurs you can bet that thoughts of food and drinks were pushed aside with that much cash at stake.
Arnold is the national coordinator for smart grid interoperability at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Arnold joined the National Institute of Standards and Technology in September 2006 as deputy director of technology services. He was appointed national coordinator for smart grid Interoperability in April 2009. He has been responsible for leading the development of standards underpinning the nation’s smart grid.
He, more than anyone, knows what is at stake in the United States when it comes to the future of power.
And, as Arnold said, once the U.S. government made the modernization of the nation’s electricity system a national policy with the smart grid plan the opportunity skyrocketed. “This is just a huge opportunity that is up for grabs,” he added.
Arnold did acknowledge that many entrepreneurs shy away from energy as the sector is littered with the bodies of dead startups, but he feels that the opportunity is ripe for the picking by “determined entrepreneurs with big vision.”
In fact, Arnold likened the opportunity in energy to the telecom boom. “We are in the early stages of a similar revolution that is going to play out in our electric infrastructure,” he said.
“What is going to happen over the coming decades is a paradigm shift very similar to what happened in the telecom industry,” he added. “Think of telecom in 1984. This is where we are with the electric grid today.”
Arnold identified three key factors in the development of a true smart grid in the United States.
The first is a need for greater efficiency. He pointed out that 40 percent of this country’s electricity is produced by coal-fueled power plants, half of which are 40 years old, and will need to be replaced by 2030 with more efficiency power generation options. He estimated this replacement cost at as much as $2 trillion.
“There is a huge economic value to finding a way to make the system operate more efficiently,” he said.
The second factor is increased reliability of the power system. While the United States is miles ahead of countries like India when it comes to power outages, it is well behind other countries such as Japan. The average home in the United States experiences two hours of power outages a year, according to Arnold. In Japan, this number is only 16 minutes.
These power outages cost the United States $80 billion a year, Arnold added, and any company that can reduce them stands to benefit greatly.
The last factor is increased sustainability. Arnold pointed out that only 29 states have renewable resources energy standards. He said he believes that the most “disruptive changes” in energy will come from renewable energy and technology such as solar panels, fuels cells, photovoltaic building materials and prosumer models in which consumers sell unused power they generate back to the grid.
At the end of the day, Arnold said he believes technology will be the ultimate tool to optimize energy production in the United States and those who figure it out will reap the rewards.
“There will be a lot of ideas out there that won’t work … but if you can find the right one there is a lot of value,” he said. “You have to kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince.”
Prior to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Arnold served as chairman of the board of the American National Standards Institute, a private, nonprofit organization that coordinates the U.S. voluntary standardization and conformity assessment system. He has also served as president of the IEEE Standards Association and as vice president of policy for the International Organization for Standardization where he was responsible for guiding the organization’s strategic plan.
He previously served as a vice president at Lucent Technologies Bell Laboratories where he directed the company’s global standards efforts. His organization played a main role in the development of international standards for intelligent networks and Internet protocol-based next generation networks. At AT&T Bell Laboratories, he had responsibilities in network planning, systems engineering, and application of information technology to automate operations and maintenance of the nationwide telecommunications network.
He has a doctoral degree in electrical engineering and computer science from Columbia University.