The Texas A&M University College of Architecture has announced the formation of a new six-month research consortium beginning May 1, 2010, to help electric cooperatives, municipal and other public utilities evaluate the business case for smart grid investments.

Electric smart grids, which can provide integrated communication, automation and control of the entire electric system from generating plants to the operation of electric equipment inside homes, commercial buildings and industrial plants, can reduce utility customer costs by reducing expensive peak hour electricity use. However, smart grid investments are expensive, often requiring large up-front costs that can take a number of years to recover.

"The economic costs and benefits of individual smart grid components depend on a large number of factors that are especially difficult for electric coops, municipal and other public utilities to address," said consortium leader Jerry Jackson, an energy economist and associate professor in the Architecture College, who holds a doctorate in economics. Because they tend to be smaller in size, many public utilities do not have extra resources required to evaluate smart grid technologies. This project, said Jackson, will develop all information required to provide detailed economic cost/benefit analysis of individual smart grid technologies and utility smart grid strategies.

"The consortium approach is a perfect way for public utilities to develop a smart grid business model evaluation capability," Jackson said. "Study members contribute project inputs and receive the benefits of a large-scale research project while sharing costs with other consortium members."

Each member of the consortium will receive an Excel-based smart grid business model customized for its utility, a smart grid resource guide and complimentary passes to a conference and workshop scheduled for fall 2010.