16 Oct 2010

Smart Grid Vendors, Utilities Putting ‘Cart Before the Horse’

Written by Jim Pierobon

For all the hype and potential that Smart Grid apps harbor for energy users, evidence is mounting that messages about their benefits are not connecting either with consumers nor utility commissioners.  If they don’t grasp the benefits, the path forward for vendors, utilities and their consultants is fraught with challenges that are best addressed quickly, including at GridWeek 2010 this Monday through Thursday in Washington, DC.

“Consumers need to be confident smart grids will work for them,” said Peter Honebein, owner of Customer Performance Group and one of the experts slated to tackle challenges facing the growing Smart Grid community. “The benefits so far are pretty dry and boring,” said Honebein, who has helped San Diego Gas & Electric develop what is widely viewed to be an emerging ‘gold standard’ of smart grid education and deployment strategies and is among the 100+ speakers at GridWeek.

Utilities need to reach beyond focus groups with residential consumers to genuinely understand what the smart grid will have to do for them. Does that mean learning how and when to use electricity differently? Does it mean controlling their thermostats from their office or while they’re on vacation? Or does it mean using a home network through which appliances and entertainment devices can be programmed and controlled for optimal efficiency and convenience?

The answers emerging from a growing number of initial deployments is that it depends on the lifestyle the consumer wants to lead. Some just want to save money, others want to become a lot greener and many make life easier and less complicated. And oh yes, they want to be able to keep track of this on a monthly bill they can easily understand.

Given that smart grid apps today are roughly where portable music devices such as the Sony Walkman portable cassette player were in the early 1980s, we all have a long way to go and much to learn. Honebein, for one, cautions utilities to assess smart grid applications on each of these four dimensions before their forge ahead: 1) Accuracy, 2)Privacy, 3) Security, and 4) Deployment.

Sheldon Reiffenstein, Director of Client Engagement at Maga Design Group in Washington, DC blogs here for Harvard Business Review about the importance of communicating smart grid benefits and not taking anything for granted. You’ll see some interesting lessons applied from risk communication pros too.

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