President Obama on Tuesday unveiled a $3.4 billion program of infrastructure spending for "smart-grid" technology. Let's talk about what this means for national energy policy and, of course, whether there's a trade in the offing to take advantage of this rather large investment of public capital.
"Smart grid" is a phrase used to describe the installation of meters and timers in homes and businesses, so that electricity usage can be monitored and more efficiently allocated. Right now, the domestic electricity consumer has very little idea where he's using his power and what it's costing him -- all he normally gets is a monthly bill, most often based on an averaged amount. Smart grids will inform the consumer where, precisely, he is spending his money and how he might more economically schedule his laundry and dish washing.
The consequences of giving consumers better information on their electricity spending could be huge. On its Web site,
calculates that for every 11 million homes connected to the smart grid, that's the equivalent of almost 700,000 fewer cars hitting the roads, or 3.7 million fewer tons of CO2 emissions.
Avoid Smart Grid Stocks
The Obama money for smart-grid infrastructure is part of the $700 billion stimulus package, but all grants are equally matched, and sometimes exceeded, by private funds, so the smart-grid spending outlay will actually total $8.1 billion. For example, Baltimore Gas & Electric, part of
( CEG), will receive $200 million and invest $251 million of its own to install 1.1 million smart meters and the information systems to manage them. The money also will go toward installing 400,000 in-home devices, including communicating thermostats and in-home displays to help consumers manage their power usage.
has begun offering a new application for homes with smart technology installed, called the Google PowerMeter, which can connect to your home's grid and the utility simultaneously to show your usage as it happens and help you manage it.
All of this is great, of course. The national grid is archaic and in need of updating and smart-grid technology promises less reliance on foreign oil. But, as always, we want to know whether this influx of interest in infrastructure could offer us a good investment opportunity.
When it comes to smart meters, GE is one of the strongest players in the space. An investment in GE, though, cannot rely upon the growth potential of smart grids, as its finance arm, its aerospace and the NBC networks will have far more impact on the bottom line.
is engaged in the computer systems that power many of the networks on which early smart grids have been running. But, again, there are far more important components to the balance sheet, which make investment in IBM based solely on energy networks unreasonable.
However, there are still a few plays on all this that interest me -
is a utility service provider and meter manufacturer carrying a super-high multiple, because it has been a continued source of takeover rumors. As the smart-grid talk gets hotter, you might see this stock move up, although at $60 dollars, it's pretty pricey already.
is a huge energy infrastructure company, in which smart-grid technology only plays a relatively minor role right now. Still, with a more down-to-earth multiple and a 2% dividend, it's a good stock to hold that might become great if the push for smart-grid technology continues to gain steam. It's just too early to tell.
The government's infrastructure investment and the upgrades to our antiquated system is a terrific story for our continued march towards better energy management and independence. It just doesn't make for a great investment story right now.
At the time of publication, Dicker had no positions in the stocks mentioned, but positions can change at any time.
Dan Dicker has been a floor trader at the New York Mercantile Exchange with more than 20 years' experience. He is a licensed commodities trade adviser. Dan's recognized energy market expertise includes active trading in crude oil, natural gas, unleaded gasoline and heating oil futures contracts; fundamental analysis including supply and demand statistics (DOE, EIA), CFTC trade reportage, volume and open interest; technical analysis including trend analysis, stochastics, Bollinger Bands, Elliot Wave theory, bar and tick charting and Japanese candlesticks; and trading expertise in outright, intermarket and intramarket spreads and cracks.
Dan also designed and supervised the introduction of the new Nymex PJM electricity futures contract, launched in April 2003, which cleared more than 600,000 contracts last year alone. Its launch has been the basis of Nymex's resurgence in the clearing of power market contracts over the last three years.
Dan Dicker has appeared as an energy analyst since 2002 with all the major financial news networks. He has lent his expertise in hundreds of live radio and television broadcasts as an analyst of the oil markets on CNBC, Bloomberg US and UK and CNNfn. Dan is the author of many energy articles published in Nymex and other trade journals.
Dan obtained a bachelor of arts degree from the State University of New York at Stony Brook in 1982.