Consumers hold the key to technology’s benefits.
As excitement and interest in a smart grid builds, utilities across North America are launching Web sites and experiments that will help customers take better advantage of the information that will be available. But as great are the issues with privacy, data management, security and technical performance associated with two-way devices, we shouldn’t delude ourselves that the customer changes ahead will be easy. Whatever the potential benefits, much will need to change both inside, as well as outside, in order for utilities to engage customers, and these changes in turn will create the most difficult challenges.
As important as funding, installation and performance issues will be, ultimately, widespread deployment and success will depend on the ability to engage large numbers of customers in different ways, as partners in energy-delivery networks. This will require customers to think differently about their energy use, and utilities to perform as change managers, in different and more sophisticated ways.
If this goes wrong, benefits will be greatly delayed and societal costs increased, so prior deliberate and thoughtful action is imperative.