24 Jan 2012

State of the utility consumer shows smart grid potential will go untapped without a new energy service model

Written by Jim Pierobon

There is progress but there is also a long way to go to engage consumers in Smart Grid apps and their benefits.

In the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative’s 2012 “State of the Consumer Report,” released today, four fresh themes emerge. Each one, and the recurring themes, continue to wrestle with the reality that virtually all U.S. energy utilities are still behaving, well, like utilities.

The need to transform their business model with a bonafide product and service orientation grows more urgent as markets and government policy turn to energy efficiency to achieve a more sustainable energy future.

CREDIT: Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative, at http://smartgridcc.org

The importance of embracing more of a service model is underscored by how cloudy the future is becoming with the breakdown in global climate talks and declining sources of financing for renewable sources of electricity.

1. Utilities, and their regulators, need to recognize that a service model stands to serve the public interest more than just a costs-plus regime. Yes reliability will remain front-and-center. But reliability now can be achieved more cost-effectively and sustainably with smart grid applications.

2. Targeting energy services to meet segmented consumers attitudes, values, behaviors and motivations — versus a one-size-fits-all-approach to customer communications — is a pre-requisite to adopting smart grid applications.

3. Direct and continuous feedback of data triggers behavioral changes in energy consumption; it proves and then reinforces the benefits of smarter grids and smart meters.

4. Best practices, including many being discussed this week at the Distributech expo and conference in San Antonio, reveal that customer education should start before deployment of a utility’s Advance Metering Infrastructure (AMI). And it should use a staged messaging strategy, leveraing internal education and community outreach to promote awareness and acceptance.

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