The new loans will be doled out to companies that offer some new way to improve the electrical grid in parts of the rural United States, where it can be difficult to get utility workers out to fix problems because the locations are remote and difficult to reach.
Rural homes might be the last in the U.S. to get access to “smart grid” technologies — which use advanced algorithms and sensors to distribute electricity and minimize energy loss — because they are so remote.
The U.S. government is one of the largest supporters of clean technology projects in the United States through loans and loan guarantees to companies in the space. A loan guarantee from the Department of Energy helps companies attract buyers and investors for new renewable energy projects by indicating that the government will foot the bill for the project if it doesn’t get a suitable return for investors. The Advanced Research Projects Agency — Energy, known as ARPA-E, also has a program for new clean technology projects that might not appear marketable at first or are untested.
There are a few other projects launching with the new loans. One is a commitment by the U.S. Department of Energy to improve access to information about energy usage for everyday consumers. The Department of Energy is also launching a competition for elementary and middle-school students that involves competing with other families and schools to see who can save the most electricity.
The U.S. government is also launching the Renewable Energy Rapid Response Team, a team designed to quickly identify and evaluate transmission lines for renewable energy sources and give those projects priority over other transmission line projects.
While there is a lot of innovation happening in the energy capture and production space — particularly with solar and wind power — many companies are trying to improve energy efficiency in order to bring down costs and waste less energy. As a result there have been a lot of recent cleantech acquisitions. General Electric acquired Converteam, a company that specializes in technology that converts electricity to mechanical energy and vice versa, in March for $3.2 billion. Toshiba also spent $2.3 billion to acquire smart meter manufacturer Landis+Gyr in May.
June 13, 2011 | Matthew Lynley