I got an email yesterday from someone close to the NB Power deal with Siemens telling me that this had the potential to be NBTel-like in that it would lead to a number of New Brunswick IT firms building products and services in support of the smart grid.
Let’s be clear about this. It will be a cost to the New Brunswick taxpayer. The NB Power President said ‘several million dollars per year’. That flows through power rates to the NB taxpayer.
There is a reason why smart grid has not been widely deployed – it costs a lot of money.
You will have to talk to someone like Rob Hoadley to understand the full dynamics of this but building intelligence into the grid and deploying the necessary devices in homes and businesses will be costly.
But I am not opposed to this – particularly if there are broader benefits than just helping NB Power overcome its Achilles Heal of peak winter heating.
There wasn’t much reason for NBTel to make many of the investments it did either. Some failed, some were successful but in the end we know that NBTel’s investments – paid for by the taxpayer – at least initially – through rates – paid off and helped seed the ICT industry in New Brunswick.
So, the model sounds good. A world leader in smart grid – Siemens. A commitment to working with local NB firms on the development of applications and services that could be exported around the world. A big and supportive partner in NB Power. Hopefully, alignment with the Dept. of Economic Development and Invest NB.
Maybe we need research chairs at UNB and UdeM in related fields. Maybe we need other infrastructure investments. For sure we need to focus on what is possible and what needs to happen to make this industry grow in New Brunswick.
I hate to be the one to point this out but in the mid 1990s, New Brunswick was a world beater in e-Government. Now we rank 8th out of 10 provinces for e-Government. And there is little evidence that NB’s IT firms are building a lot of exportable e-Gov applications and services.
The point is simple. Government (or in this case the electricity utility) can ‘prime the pump’ of an exciting new sector development opportunity by being a lead client.
But it doesn’t just happen.
If NB Power is to become the new NBTel, it will take a lot of work.
I’m crossing my fingers.