Tech firms eager to gobble stimulus funds

The upside is that stimulus projects could act as seed money for public and private works, leading to more investments by state and local government, and via private investors, Bartels says.

Among the tech contenders, by category:

•Broadband. The government has allotted $7.2 billion for broadband deployment. It is a building block for improvements in education, health care and energy, says Jeff Campbell, senior director of technology and trade policy at Cisco, which has helped expand high-speed Internet access in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere.

For now, it's unclear which communities would benefit from broadband expansion — and under what capacity, says Milo Medin, chairman of M2Z Networks, a start-up that's trying to build a broadband network in the U.S.

Major deployment of broadband could create 300,000 jobs for the telecom and tech industries, according to a study by the non-profit Information Technology & Innovation Foundation.

Some 6% to 10% of all U.S. households — especially those in rural areas — do not have broadband Internet access. Some 75 million to 85 million American adults do, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

"We don't want to live in a nation of (technology) haves and have-nots," says Carl Guardino, CEO of Silicon Valley Leadership Group, a trade association that represents about 300 Silicon Valley companies that employ 500,000 in California.

•Energy. Tech companies are preparing to make a dash for about $43 billion in energy-related programs, including $4.5 billion to develop smart-energy electric grids and $2 billion to develop advanced battery technology for electric cars.

IT companies will help utility companies understand demand in real time and manage power more intelligently. Much of the spending, and jobs, will go toward updating and modernizing utility grid infrastructures; developing and installing high-tech meters, digital sensors and other analytic tools; and construction of a smart grid.

One possible model could be a large-scale version of a smart grid IBM and the Department of Energy designed in Washington state from 2006-07. The power-management system helped businesses and residents in 112 homes reduce energy consumption 15% during peak hours and save an average 10% on electricity bills. Such efficiencies reduce, if not eliminate, the need to build costly power stations, says Stephen Stokes, vice president of sustainability and green technology at AMR Research.

"IBM stands to gain substantially from the stimulus package through its work in smart power grids the previous few years," Stokes says. "They are playing very hard to own a key role in such a global transformation."

IBM is investing $1 billion a year in energy-efficient technology, or about one-sixth of its annual R&D budget.

General Electric, another contender, is developing an ambitious energy-management system on Maui that would let Maui Electric closely control peak energy use and make the best use of wind power. The big guys hardly have a lock on such projects, however.

Contracts are just as likely to go to specialized vendors that can move nimbly. SolFocus, a solar-energy equipment company that raised $47 million in funding in January, thinks it is uniquely positioned to sell or provide equipment to municipal utilities, such as the Palo Alto, Calif., water-treatment facility, universities, state prisons and the military.

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