What People Need And Want From Their 21st Century Electricity Grid

By: Derek Walker, Director, California Climate Initiative & Deputy Director, States Climate Program

For most people, the “smart grid” is just another nerdy-sounding concept, a little like the Internet was 15 years ago.  Back in 1995, only a crystal ball would have given a hint of the rapid explosion of the information age and the changes it would bring about in our daily lives.  The “smart grid” is in its infancy, but the benefits it offers are starting to become clear: reduced air pollution, more reliability, and greater control for the people and businesses that use energy.  Not to mention some very cool gadgets that can do everything from remotely starting your washing machine to telling you, in real time, how much money you are spending to power your iPad.

Last month, the 2011 State of the Consumer Report was released by the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative (SGCC), an organization (EDF is an affiliate member) whose mission is to listen to, educate, and collaborate with consumers to ensure the most efficient and effective transition to the “smart grid” of the future.  After all, billions of dollars will be spent in the next 20 years to upgrade our electricity infrastructure, and we need to get the most bang for every buck.  That means the best technology, the most cost-savings, and the greatest degree of consumer empowerment possible.

The SGCC report combines the insights from over 80 studies and white papers to give a thorough snapshot of what consumers want, need, and expect from new energy technologies and the modernized “smart grid.”  The result is a template for innovators, policy makers, and consumers themselves about how best to get and stay engaged in the exciting changes that are coming…and in many cases, are already here.   

The results of the studies clearly show that people are intrigued, but that there are many different kinds of people that have different needs and require varying levels of engagement.  It also shows that those fascinated with new gadgets and those with the greatest interest in doing their part to create a healthy environment and reduce pollution are the most likely ‘first adopters.’  The report concludes that to generate more widespread enthusiasm for the “smart grid,” it is important to emphasize how the increasing costs of energy can be cut through a “smart grid” and how simple and user-friendly new clean energy technologies can be.  

Ultimately, people want and embrace what they can see, feel and touch.  That means that tangible benefits such as energy and cost savings, more reliability, and the ability to pick and choose technologies and pricing schemes are vital.  The report touches on a basic truth about human behavior:  the gap between intention and action.  Consumer education, engagement, and empowerment are critical keys to successfully unlocking the myriad benefits of the “smart grid.”

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