The Smart Grid is coming, but most people around the country are not aware of what it is or what it means to them. If a key goal of the Smart Grid is ultimately energy conservation, the Grid’s very success will be dependent upon consumer awareness and support.
The Smart Grid will bring exciting improvements to our utility infrastructure such as more reliable power delivery and options for renewable power. The new Grid will provide other benefits including peak load management for utilities and energy storage capabilities. For consumers, this will also mean the installation of a Smart Meter, an improvement on traditional electric meters designed to communicate power usage between the consumer and their utility and enable consumers to reduce their bills by managing consumption, at least in the long run. Stimulus funding will help pay for some of the development, but consumers will still need to cover more than a fair share.
Public utility commissions and regulators may be on board with Smart Grid deployment, but American consumers may not. Not all consumers will be willing to learn about Smart Meters, analyze utility bills, pay for the upgrades or even care. The story will be a particularly hard sell during such a tough economic time. Chances are consumers would be more accepting and possibly even demand updated power systems if they actually knew about the Smart Grid and how it will benefit them. Studies have shown that when consumers are aware of their power usage and spending, they will lower usage somewhere between 10 and 25% — providing savings and reducing their carbon footprint. These are encouraging figures.
Some consumer awareness exists, but it is not widespread. People may have read that Obama recently allocated $3.9 Billion of stimulus funding to “Invest in Smart Grid Technologies and Electric Transmission Infrastructure.” The DOE also published “The Smart Grid: An Introduction” a consumer-friendly publication demystifying the Smart Grid for those who come across it.
Others may have seen ads from GE’s ‘NOW’ campaign that ran during this year’s Super Bowl or seen their flashy microsite PlugIntoTheSmartGrid.com, offering an educational, but somewhat simplified overview of the Grid.
Pilot Projects such as the Smart Grid City in Boulder, CO or Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s (PNNL) GridWise Olympic Peninsula Project are also raising awareness. One challenge for PNNL was convincing consumers to participate. As an incentive, PNNL offered the participants a 10 % discount on their utility bills.
What consumers will need to know?
Most importantly, consumers will need to understand and buy into the cost/benefit case for these upgrades. Once installed, they will need to understand how and why to use Smart Meter data to make better decisions about power usage. Education and coaxing for some will be required to change consumer behavior. Consumers will need to realize that Smart Meters can also help utilities identify and respond to outages, deliver power more efficiently and eliminate the need for someone to come to the house and read the old electric meters.
There are multiple stakeholders in this undertaking (utilities, policy makers, regulators, environmental groups, vendors), however, consistent messaging to the consumer is critical. Similar to need for the uniformity of protocols with grid technology, so too is the importance that consumers are on the same page with what is going on.
It is still unclear what percentage of the public is aware of the Smart Grid. It is clear that consumer awareness will be needed for adoption of the program and supporting the ultimate goal of energy conservation.
[photo credit: Tom Raftery]