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The Smart Grid Is Dumb without Smart Consumers

New Industry Group Launches to Educate, Engage People on Smart Grid

By Amy Westervelt

Mar 23, 2010

While the eco blogs have been full of “smart grid this” and “smart grid that” for the last couple of years, only 21 percent of U.S. consumers say they've heard of the smart grid and far fewer understand how it affects them, according to a national released today by General Electric.

To combat the general lack of smart grid knowledge, GE and several other smart grid industry players also announced today that they are forming the .

Headed up by Jesse Berst, managing director at GlobalSmartEnergy, the collaborative’s members are a virtual who’s who of smart grideratti: Silver Spring Networks, IBM, the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), GE, the Gridwise Alliance, Office of the Ohio Consumers' Counsel. The collaborative was hastily put together over the last two months, a time frame that didn’t allow for notoriously slow and bureaucratic utilities to join right away, Berst said, but the collaborative is in talks with several utilities that plan to join.

John MacDonald, general manager of marketing for GE Energy’s Transmission and Distribution division, shared more data points from GE’s research that made clear just how dire the need for consumer education on smart grid is.

Among U.S. consumers who are familiar with the term "smart grid," MacDonald pointed out, the majority feel they have gaps in their knowledge. More than two-thirds of those who claimed to be familiar with the term weren't sure if their homes were already connected to a smart grid. A sister survey in found similar numbers, with 72 percent of Australians saying they are unfamiliar with the term "smart grid" and 68 percent of those who are familiar with the term still unsure if their homes are connected.

The GE data is only the latest to suggest that consumers need to have smart grid explained to them a bit more, and that, in doing so, utilities and technology companies can turn consumers into their greatest allies.

As Guido Bartels, IBM’s general manager of energy and utilities, pointed out today, IBM research has found that over 70 percent of consumers would happily engage with tools that give them information and control over their energy usage. The gap between GE’s data, which reveals how few people understand what smart grid is, and IBM’s, which reveals how eager people are to get more involved with their energy use, is precisely the space the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative (SGCC) will address.

“The whole ‘if you build it they will come’ adage doesn’t really translate for smart grid consumers,” said Janine Ostrander, of the Office of the Ohio Consumers' Counsel. “Consumers need to understand the value of smart grid for them before they will engage with it. Smart grid needs to be made simple.”

Katherine Hamilton, president of the Gridwise Alliance, called consumer awareness and engagement the “missing piece” of the current smart grid build-out.

“It’s something we’ve really been trying to get our arms around: What will consumers respond to? How do we get them to engage?” she said. “So it’s really good that we’re getting together on this. The smart grid is not smart until the consumer is engaged.”

Educating and engaging consumers may also help diffuse any further backlash against smart meters as they roll out.

“Most consumers don’t get today why they should even care about this stuff,” Richard Walker, president of home automation company Control4 said.

“I live in California and every week or every other week there’s a consumer group concerned about the accuracy of meters or some other issue related to the meters. Last week there was some concern about whether smart meters radiate.


Consumers were previously treated in a homogeneous, today with the introduction of new technologies each consumer will have different features.
For the success of Utilities in developing this new scenario, they must have the ability to understand the different distribution topologies and further understand the consumption profile of each class of consumer

Demand Response involves encouraging customers to cut back or shift their electrical use or demand in response to grid emergencies or high market prices for electricity.
Today there are three different types of Demand Response services :

The first is where customers receive compensation for electing to standby to reduce a portion of their electric demand in a grid emergency. These are called “capacity resources” and are typically activated a few times a year for up to 6 hours at a time.

The second type involves sending customers price signals to encourage them to reduce demand during peak hours. The higher the hourly prices, the greater financial incentive a customer has for reducing their electric load. Customers can participate at their discretion for as little as one hour at a time. These are called “energy markets.”

The last involves very short grid-initiated curtailment events with very short notification. These are typically 10 to 30 minute reductions with 10 minutes notice. These are called “ancillary services” and help the grid operator smooth out short-term imbalances of electrical supply.

Different Utilities or Regions, Substations, Feeders and Consumers should be treated differently, the faster the Utilities understand this, will have fewer problems with their consumers.

In a project that I developed, where Demand Response and DSM were priorities in the first three months consumers had two different bills.

The first bill was the same as he always received, second bill came with the record of consumption in three different times and with special rates in these three different times.

The consumers in these first three months paid the electric bill of less value, in these three months he could test different way and times of energy use.
So after these three months, consumers had developed new ways to use energy in accordance with their daily lives.

This is the best way to educate and engage the consumer in this new concept - Smart Grid - it is a pity that this is not being implemented.
It is a much more friendly to educate the consumer and also the staff of the Utilities involved.

Smart grid technology is one

Smart grid technology is one of many types of energy efficient conditions that this country needs to focus on domestic energy production. If we can build the backbone of energy distribution in a more intelligent manner, that will lessen the burden to traditional energy sources, as well as bring in more from alternative energy sources.

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