Department of Energy Mismanaged ‘Smart Grid’ Money According to Report

The Department of Energy mismanaged millions of dollars last year when quickly doling out recovery funds for new “smart grid” projects, according to a new inspector general’s report.

The agency failed to secure proper documentation for reimbursements and allowed some recipients to falter on their cost-share responsibilities when approving 11 projects worth about $12 million, DOE Inspector General Gregory Friedman said in a report released this week.

“We found the department had not always managed the program effectively and efficiently,” Friedman wrote.

DOE has been tasked with disbursing large sums of money for new grid projects under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, with the aim of injecting money into the faltering economy.

The agency has distributed about $700 million to support 42 projects demonstrating new energy storage systems and advanced metering, 10 of which were only partially funded, according to the report.

After reviewing 11 smart grid projects, Friedman said, he uncovered about $12.3 million in “questionable spending.”

Specifically, DOE officials failed to provide documentation to show reimbursements were necessary or cost-effective, he said. In one case, the agency reimbursed two recipients based on estimates and not actual costs, resulting in overpayments of almost $10 million, he said. A third recipient received almost $2.4 million without showing the proper documentation, according to the report.

The agency also allowed one recipient to use $28 million worth of proceeds from a federally backed project to meet its cost-share requirement, Friedman said. Recipients cannot under federal law use federal funds or previous contributions to meet cost-share requirements, he said.

In another case, DOE awarded a recipient $14 million for a project that had already received $2 million under the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy program for similar work.

“In fact, the recipient, unknown to the department until our audit, had reported the same accomplishments under both awards,” Friedman said.

DOE has already recovered most of the money in question, and the agency agreed with many of Friedman’s findings in the report. But the department also rejected some of his concerns, including the assertion that the department approved $1.7 million for an energy storage project that hadn’t been built yet.

Instead, DOE said it “maintained frequent contact with the recipient and had been continually aware of the project’s progress.”

Report PDF

Source: Governor’s Wind Energy Coalition

How Wireless Charging Can Drive Near-Field Communications Growth

At CES 2013, the Wireless Power Consortium displayed dozens of devices that were designed to the Qi wireless charging standard, suggesting that 2013 may be the year wireless charging becomes a feature consumers expect to come standard in new smartphones.

Nokia and HTC already offer smartphones with Qi technology integrated directly, such as the Lumia 920 and Droid DNA. For more popular smartphones that were not developed with Qi compatibility, including Apple’s iPhone 5 and Samsung’s Galaxy S3, third-party manufacturers have developed smartphone cases with integrated Qi technology. The cases themselves plug into the phone’s power dock and relay a charge received when the encased phone is placed on a wireless power source.

Further facilitating the rise of wireless charging is the Qi standard’s compatibility. Although manufacturers can build wirelessly charging devices on their own, the standard dictates that all Qi-enabled devices are compatible with all Qi-enabled power sources. That means a wireless charging pad developed by Nokia could charge a smartphone built by HTC, and so on. Best of all, it means smartphone users will never again need to scramble for a power cord that fits into the custom-designed power dock on their phones.

But what does the impending rise of wirelessly charging smartphones have to do with the growth of near-field communications (NFC) technology?

At CES, the WPC booth also displayed several new components designed to facilitate the integration of the Qi wireless charging technology. One component on display, developed by TDK, integrated both Qi wireless technology and NFC into a single chip.

As these components become smaller, cheaper, and easier to integrate into devices, Bas Fransen, chief marketing officer at ConvenientPower, says manufacturers will ship more smartphones featuring both wireless charging and NFC.

“The beauty of Qi is that the receiver actually is very simple and low in cost; that has been the objective as mobile phone OEMs demand ultra-low-cost adders,” Fransen says. “So, indeed, once those chips are ready, it will be simple for mobile phone OEMs to integrate Qi and NFC.”

Some smartphones already feature both NFC and Qi. At CES, Fransen placed an NFC/Qi-enabled smartphone on top of a similarly outfitted JBL boombox, which charged the device while streaming audio through its speakers wirelessly.

However, the Qi and NFC technologies were integrated separately in the manufacturing process of some of these devices, which is why phones that boast both capabilities have been so rare to this point. But as manufacturers look to set their devices apart from those of their competitors, Fransen says the integration of NFC and wireless charging will become a common trend by the second half of 2013.

The integration is relatively simple, Fransen says. The NFC and Qi systems will simply operate “next to each other on one single ‘die.'” The result will be a less expensive method by which manufacturers can tout new capabilities on their products.

“The easier and cheaper we all make it for mobile phone OEMs, the faster technologies get adopted,” Fransen says.

Of course, some obstacles still stand in the way. Near-field communications has long been touted as the future of mobile payments, but while Google Wallet uses the technology for its smartphone payment technology, Apple famously passed on the technology for its mobile payment app on the iPhone 5. At the time, Apple Senior Vice President Phil Schiller told All Things D that NFC does not necessarily solve any current problems smartphone users face. Considering that the technology had already been criticized by eBay CEO John Donahoe, who has joked that NFC should stand for “Not For Commerce,” the snub likely did not improve public opinion on the technology.

Steve Goacher, business development manager for wireless power at Texas Instruments, says “there is no reason why these two solutions cannot be combined.” However, he points out that integrating NFC and Qi technologies could result in efficiency and cost of the final solution, if it’s not perfected before the component is shipped.

Consumers will also need to find places to use NFC. In order for an NFC-enabled device to complete a transaction, it needs to be scanned by an NFC reader. That means merchants will need to jump onboard as well.

This process will take some time, but the shift is indeed expected to happen. Gartner predicts a 42% annual growth rate for mobile payment transactions will result in a $617 billion market of 448 million users by 2016.

“NFC payment involves a change in user behavior and requires collaboration among stakeholders that includes banks, mobile carriers, card networks and merchants,” Sandy Shen, research director at Gartner, said in a May 2012 report. “It takes time for both to happen, so we don’t expect NFC payments to come into the mass market before 2015. In the meantime, ticketing, rather than retail payment, will drive NFC transactions.”

Source: Network World