We think we know how smart grid technology will change the utility industry. But do we really?
Take a look at this documentary made in 1969. It’s a view of how the world perceived the coming Internet (It’s also a pretty amusing look at how sexist our society still was at that point.)
While the film gets some concepts right, like online banking, it misses the Internet’s most world-changing benefit, the democratization of information — the production, distribution and consumption of data by everyday us, free from gatekeepers.
The film also misses the pizzazz and the fun of the coming Internet. There is no You Tube, no Google, no Wikipedia. And look at the kids. They are playing with physical toys. Why isn’t the Mom yelling at them for being on Facebook all day?
The Internet’s emergence – and our misunderstanding of what it would become – may provide hints about the future of smart grid. After all, many parallels exist between the two.
The Internet offered up democratization of information; smart grid promises democratization of electricity, giving consumers the ability to control at their fingertips power production, distribution and consumption. Indeed, if smart grid’s vision plays out to its fullest, you in essence become the power plant. Your in-home generators produce power that is stored by your plug-in electric vehicle, and your home computer controls the electricity distribution. The end game is energy savings and lower costs.
Some argue that the smart grid revolution will have a more profound impact on how we live than did the Internet. The megawatt, after all, is more powerful then the megabyte. Without the megawatt, the megabyte could not be.
Forty- years ago we had a pretty bland vision of the coming Internet. Had we been worried then about getting people to use the Internet – the way we now worry about getting them to use smart grid devices — we probably would have plumbed the depths of behavioral psychology for strategies. We would have asked: Can we get people to use the Internet if we show them that their neighbors do? How about if we demonstrate to them how much money the Internet will save them? Will they shop on the Internet if we explain to them it is better for the environment than driving to the store?
And, of course, all of that hand-wringing would have been a waste of time. What did it take to get people to use the Internet? Some really smart kids in dorm rooms with bright ideas: Bill Gates, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg and the like.
The electric power industry needs its own crop of dorm room geniuses that will find ways to make the smart grid irresistible to the consumer. If they emerge, maybe the next generation of parents will be lecturing their kids to get off the kilowatt zapper and go outside and play. After all, you can’t spend your whole day eking energy savings from the house.
Elisa Wood is a long-time energy writer whose work appears in many of the industry’s top magazines and newsletters. She is publisher of the Energy Efficiency Markets podcast and newsletter.