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War-gaming the evolution of China's smart grid

Posted by Scott Kirsner  April 27, 2010 07:49 AM

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Competitive intelligence guru Leonard Fuld is bringing together about 35 business school students in Cambridge tomorrow for a day-long "war game" exercise: which American companies will benefit most as China spends an estimated $100 billion creating a smart electrical grid over the next decade?

Cisco executives have said that the smart grid opportunity developing a more intelligent way of distributing electricity and understanding the demand for it could be 100 or 1,000 times bigger than the Internet, and Jeff Immelt, GE's chairman, has called it the "greatest investment opportunity in the first half of the 21st century."

Teams of MBA students from schools like Northwestern, MIT, Wharton, and Yale will role-play the leaders of four companies: Cisco, GE, IBM, and Siemens. Fuld tells me that about one-third of the students have worked in China, and most are planning to go into the energy sector upon graduating. They each received a 100-page briefing book in advance of tomorrow's day-long strategy game.

"China is going to be doling out $10 billion a year to make sure their smart grid gets built in the next ten years," says Fuld, "and most of the companies involved will be U.S. and E.U. companies." One interesting geopolitical wrinkle, of course, is that these companies could be helping China become "more powerful than the U.S., building electrical distribution systems way out into the hinterlands," Fuld says. "All this is going to add to China's capability as a global power."

Judges of the war game include a Marco DiCapua, a former U.S. Department of Energy official who has worked in China and Denis Simon, who heads the Program on U.S.-China Technology at Penn State. 

Fuld's Cambridge competitive intelligence firm was founded in 1979; they've been helping corporate customers run war game scenarios for the past decade or so, in industries like healthcare, consumer goods, and technology. "Customers want to do these when they have patents expiring, big mergers happening, or regulatory changes something upsetting the balance," he says. 

The winning team at Wednesday's war game will get $5000, and Fuld says he'll publish results and video afterward on his blog.

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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