The SmartGrid Challenge: Create Smart Consumers
SmartGrid sounds so modern, so exciting, and so cool - like... umm... say lightsabers. So how can consumers not get excited?
Well, for one, consumers take electricity for granted. So it is difficult to get them excited about conservation of electricity in any form. No one wakes up and pledges to save 5 kWh through the course of the day. And to be fair, we can't expect them either. Electricity consumption is "habitual" in nature and we cannot expect consumers to change that overnight. And then who likes to pay bills? And here we are talking about possibly increased bills. Not to mention that the definition of a SmartGrid would leave even the smartest people scratching their heads.
The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 defines Smart Grid as
"Smart Grid is basically a transition from our current centralized, producer-controlled network to one that is less centralized and more consumer-interactive".
It further states
"It is the policy of the United States to support the modernization of the Nation's electricity transmission and distribution system to maintain a reliable and secure electricity infrastructure that can meet future demand growth and to achieve each of the following, which together characterize a Smart Grid:
(1) Increased use of digital information and controls technology to improve reliability, security, and efficiency of the electric grid.
(2) Dynamic optimization of grid operations and resources, with full cyber-security.
(3) Deployment and integration of distributed resources and generation, including renewable resources.
Wow. That's quite a mouthful and then some. Given the complex nature of the whole Smart Grid, the onus now lies on the utility companies to go out and educate consumers about SmartGrid in a lucid language that they will understand and appreciate. Since the benefits are long term, we should look at various aspects of communication.
1. Near term: Provide information through consumers' preferred channel of choice. This would include direct mail / bill inserts, email communication, SMS, social media, and possibly through a direct message when consumers call the contact center.
2. Medium term: Build dedicated site that talks about the program, challenges, progress and allow early adopters to share their views.
3. Long term: Partner with schools to provide kids with a focus on conservation, its merits and how SmartGrid can help. Leverage the fact that kids can often act as a great catalyst to change parents' behavior too. Build resources/sites that schools can use to educate kids on SmartGrid and its impact.
In 20 years, we would have trained the consumers to look at electricity differently. The house they live in will be programmed to use electricity when it is most efficient to use. The rate structures will mirror market movement and consumers will control usage by a touch of a button or through an interface provided by their smart phone.
However, until the idea of a SmartGrid becomes more familiar to all, we need to anticipate questions, doubts and possibly even opposition. The key to overcome will lie in patiently answering questions and educating consumers; all the while working our way resolutely through the opposition of doubters and naysayers. A large part of the success of SmartGrid will be defined by how utilities and consumers interact over the next 5 years.
The Energy Act defines 10 characteristics of a SmartGrid. To read more about SmartGrid, please visit