Pecan Street Project Unveils Smart Grid Solutions

Report highlights path toward clean energy future

On March 24, the Pecan Street Project released its recommendations for transforming the delivery of electricity – culminating a year of work. PSP representatives expect the report to influence the rapidly changing field nationally and internationally. "We're audacious, or maybe arrogant, enough to think we can not just re-create or improve the utility but really come up with a new energy system," said Jim Marston, a PSP board member.

The report recommends an approach to expanding the clean energy economy while transforming how energy is delivered to utility customers. The delivery system proposed is modeled on the Internet: It would make every consumer's home or business a potential generator of electricity, with energy flowing both ways. "We hope it will provide economic dividends for decades to come," said board member Randi Shade, in emphasizing the potential to create jobs and new companies in Austin and nationally.

The Pecan Street Project tackles the most devilish issue of all: how electric utilities can survive economically while driving down demand for their product, in the name of energy efficiency, climate action, and environmental protection. "We are unique in wrestling with the business model," said PSP President Roger Duncan, former general manager of Austin Energy. "I don't see other utilities dealing with that; it's the consequences of the smart grid for the business model that I don't see being thought through" by other smart grid projects nationally. Many utilities "don't want it to work too well," added Marston. "They're worried about losing revenue. ... They're trying to slow down the process."

The PSP recommendations look far beyond the grid and include in the guiding principles environmental protection, reliability, economic development, the economic stability of the city and the utility, and the link between renewable energy and energy efficiency. Four sets of recommendations were provided specifically to Austin Energy, covering renewable distributed energy deployment and testing, smart grid testing and pilots, a new rate structure, and a new business model.

The report culminates a yearlong effort based in Austin and led by the Environmental Defense Fund, which brought together officials from major technology companies; University of Texas researchers; environmental, work force, and business leaders; Austin Energy officials; city officials; and hundreds of volunteers – more than 200 people in all. "In just over a year, this effort has moved from a big idea to a firm list of recommendations, some of which are already being deployed," said PSP Executive Director Brewster McCrack­en. "Austin has a remarkable opportunity to spur the next wave of American innovation."

"This is one of the most innovative energy projects in the country," said PSP board member Jose Beceiro of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce. "We anticipate it will attract new clean-tech talent and companies to Austin's growing clean energy economy." According to the report, the successful implementation of its recommendations will "require a significant job training effort," although several groups, including Austin Community College, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Texas Workforce Commission, "are already working to develop the workforce that will design, install and maintain this technology. But the coordination among ALL regional job training agencies must become much more deliberate and streamlined."

The report also includes a set of guidelines for water management, public policy, economic development, and green job training. For water management, PSP recommends many steps already suggested by local environmentalists to the Austin Water Utility. Recommendations include pricing water to spur conservation and load shifting, installing and testing smart water meters, providing more usage information to water customers, cross-training city water and energy auditors, reducing landscape water use, and establishing city water-use targets.

"The vision of the Pecan Street Project," reads the report, "must become hardwired into the planning DNA of this community – just as technology was hardwired into the community's vision a generation ago." See the full report at

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