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What about Consumers? The Missing Piece to the Smart Grid Puzzle

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By: Joe Miller

Regulators, legislators, vendors, utilities, and academia know how a successfully implemented Smart Grid can benefit the

United States.  But with so much focus on how the Smart Grid can benefit the electric system, the impact on residential consumers is often overlooked. 

 

Consumer participation has long been a principal characteristic of the Smart Grid as identified by the Modern Grid Strategy team (funded by the Department of Energy and led by the National Energy Technology Laboratory) because active participation of consumers is essential for making the Smart Grid successful.

 

Yet the "build-it-and-they-will-come” model may not work for those consumers.   What should we do to encourage consumers to embrace the transition to a Smart Grid now and ultimately participate with it in the future when it is a reality?

 

Three steps are needed to gain this support â€"understanding, alignment, and motivation.

  • Understanding will only occur if an effective education and communication process is presented to the consumer.  The concepts developed by the Modern Grid team were intended to serve as a starting point for this educational process, but clearly more effort is needed.  We should place emphasis on how the Smart Grid can provide benefits to consumers in each of its key value areas such as improved reliability, security, economics, efficiency, environmental friendliness, and safety.

  • Alignment requires collective consumer understanding of Smart Grid concepts and a general agreement with those concepts.  Agreement requires a collaborative approach and a willingness to allow the consumers to impact the direction of the Smart Grid transition in their respective areas or regions.  Unfortunately, Smart Grid planning often begins with defining its technical requirements rather than sharing with consumers why a Smart Grid is needed and what value they can expect to enjoy from its implementation. 

  • Motivation requires a value proposition of adequate size to inspire the consumer to support and participate in the smart grid transition.   Communicating a compelling value proposition will motivate consumers and create momentum to move forward.  Furthermore, a significant value proposition often encourages groups to seek additional understanding and collaboration so that further alignment is achieved.  It is time to provide more visibility on the value proposition from the consumer‘s perspective.

In future installments of this series, I’ll examine the kinds of incentives that exist for consumers and suggest ways we might bring consumer understanding, alignment, and motivation in sync with Smart Grid opportunities.

 

   Email Joe Miller at Horizon Energy

   NETL Web site

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