Communicate, Collaborate, Cooperate
- Written by David Bassett
Realizing an effective, efficient Smart Grid will require the time, effort and imagination of a wide range of individuals and organizations. Because of this complexity, there is a real risk that deployment of mission-critical infrastructures could be delayed. Stakeholders need concisely stated goals, objectives, and requirements written in simple, clear language; and accessible input and feedback channels.
The three C's: communication, collaboration, and cooperation, will be essential to making the Smart Grid a success and meeting the public's expectations. All key stakeholders must proactively assemble, organize, and disseminate data specific to their domains. For utilities, this includes critical real-time information: consumption volumes, central versus distributed resources, and load levels. Regulatory agencies will require information on overall supply availability, environmental impacts and grid security conditions, and should do their best to communicate these requirements as early as possible. Consumers are concerned about rates and pricing, privacy, and potential impact on monthly utility bills.
Addressing these issues is challenging, but through careful consideration and open communication, Smart Grid developers and engineers will find a way through. Three specific strategies are:
- Using standards that have already been developed, and thoughtfully incorporating emerging standards and technologies to promote interoperability, integration and communications between foundational entities such as SCADA systems and installed devices
- Anticipating regulatory requirements on one hand, and implementing flexible, scalable frameworks to future-proof the Smart Grid infrastructure design so it can be adapted easily to regulatory changes
- Integrating the appropriate elements of successful consumer product technologies, such as touch screens and cellular text messages, to deliver information using email, the Web, mobile devices and other familiar channels
Because of the Smart Grid’s interdependencies, there are many opportunities for collaboration between stakeholders. Fortunately, these opportunities are arriving at a time when the electric utility industry is radically rethinking the way its product is produced, delivered, managed and consumed. All stakeholders—utilities, standards bodies, regulatory agencies, and technology developers—must work together to ensure that the global Smart Grid delivers an accessible, affordable, reliable and clean supply of power.
On the technology side, best-practice methodologies, standards and architectures must be devised through collaboration to forge a cleaner, more secure and efficient energy network and to find ways of incorporating renewable energy sources. Policymakers, regulatory agencies and utilities must collaborate to provide access to capital for long-term infrastructural investments. Utilities and regulatory agencies can better appreciate consumer needs and concerns by meeting with them to discuss benefits and issues.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, improving the utility grid’s efficiency by five percent would be equivalent to permanently eliminating fuel and greenhouse emissions from 53 million automobiles. Nevertheless, consumers remain skeptical. Smart meter deployments in California and Texas have been followed by complaints over increased utility bills, potential health and safety impacts, and privacy concerns.
On the other hand, consumers frequently demonstrate a keen interest in the benefits brought by energy efficiency. The success of “cash for clunkers” appliance rebates and CFL lamp replacement programs, for example, show that tangible cost savings and effective educational initiatives result in consumers not just accepting, but demanding energy-efficient appliances for their homes.
To ensure the success of the Smart Grid in general, and smart meters specifically, industry and public sector leaders must engage and educate consumers about the opportunities offered by the global Smart Grid, specifically by honoring the following principles:
- Venue is important. Customer education initiatives should use channels that consumers find most comfortable, such as email, the Internet or town hall-style meetings.
- Feedback comes first. If consumers are given the chance to register their concerns early in the process, utilities and regulators will have time to construct a targeted response during hands-on demonstrations of smart meters and other technologies.
- Participation should be incentivized. Successful appliance rebate programs have a message: Consumers will be more likely to accept smart meters and Smart Grid technologies when there is a direct financial benefit.
Consumer acceptance is essential for the Smart Grid to achieve its full potential. Proactive outreach can help create a cadre of consumers who are actively engaged proponents, rather than opponents.
Despite more than two decades of attempts to develop technologies for a smarter power grid, only now has the concept become a priority. As the world’s power grid infrastructures continue to age and deteriorate, the reality is that this is the "make or break" time.
Yesterday's, or for that matter today’s, grid infrastructures cannot adequately address issues such as security threats, increasing demand and the imperative for better management of natural resources. It is time to invest the money, and effort and time needed to bring the global Smart Grid to fruition. Only by leveraging the strength of all constituencies can we develop and deploy the robust transmission and distribution infrastructure, and so guarantee future generations a dependable, uninterruptible power supply.