Why Energy Management in the Home Will Be Mainstream

2009 is certainly the “Year of the Smart Grid”, as dubbed by Greentech Media GTM Research but there are many wondering how exactly Smart Grid technology is going to be adopted where arguably it matters most – the customer’s home.  While advancements in power delivery are absolutely necessary to ensure the grid is able to evolve with the growing demands in supply and meter data management along with energy storage are rapidly expanding industries, there are several good reasons why the general population will need to be on board with this transformation.

For one, demand response and peak pricing event notification to consumers are largely voluntary initiatives.  In order for utility companies to effectively transform their grid to be smarter and more reliable, they need their customers to participate.  Additionally, funding for Smart Grid projects are abundant now – between private investment firms pouring millions into different segments of the end-to-end Smart Grid (Foundation capital example link) and U.S. Department of Energy stimulus grants available to utilities interested in upgrading their grid to AMI and smart meters.  But not every Smart Grid deployment is proving to be a success (see example in Texas of failed trial) – what happens if consumers don’t eventually support and adopt this technology?  Ultimately, the success of this rapidly growing industry largely depends on how successful utilities and Smart Grid companies can be when convincing customers and consumers that they need energy management in their lives.smartgridaugmentedreality

So why is it destined to become mainstream?  It’s simple, really.  Energy management is just another way of providing people with information.  Information about their own behavior – information that should already be available.  Being able to monitor and control energy usage makes as much sense as being able to monitor cell phone usage and subsequent bills.  Wouldn’t it be ridiculous if the phone company sent you a bill every month that had no breakdown of minutes used, text messages sent and received, overages and surcharges – and expected you to pay it, no questions asked?

Imagine if you called up your phone company to inquire about the charges and they told you there is simply no way for them to tell you where each charge came from or why your bill might be higher than normal this month.  This would be unacceptable and yet, this is what happens every month when you receive your energy bill.  It might be higher or lower but aside from the general kw used and price per kilowatt, you receive virtually no information about specific usage in your home.  What loads ran higher this month?  Did you leave something running for a few days, explaining the small spike?  What could help you save money without drastically altering your lifestyle?

The fact is that our modern lives are chock full of information we don’t remember living without.  Caller-ID, online banking, real-time cell phone usage, instant pricing on almost any consumer good via the internet.  Technologies that were once believed to be a nice thought but fairly unnecessary quickly become facets of our day-to-day.  The argument that energy management solutions will only help consumers save small amounts of money each month and are therefore largely inconsequential is completely misguided.  Does caller-ID save us money?  Maybe if we are trying to save minutes on our cell phone by ignoring unwanted calls, but not in any real, meaningful way.  The cost savings is a benefit, no doubt, but certainly not the only one.

The current electric grid is a dinosaur – in delivery, consumption, conservation and data management.  It is the last big network not upgraded to an IT based system and the millions and millions of utility customers in the U.S. suffer because of it.  We are left in the dark (no pun intended) on a service we have no choice but to pay for in order to live.  The energy debate isn’t simply one of environmental concern (though it undoubtedly is and should be) or one of cost-savings.   It is the right of information – a right we have come to know and expect from service providers in our society.  It is the ability to know what we’re paying for, to change our behaviors to reflect what we spend and to participate in demand response or peak pricing events as we see fit.

While it may not seem feasible now, as more utilities acknowledge the need to transform their grids to be sustainable, effective and reliable, the availability of consumer energy management solutions will grow.  Once utilities allow their customers the opportunity to monitor and control their energy usage, it won’t be long before customers won’t be able to remember a time when they weren’t able to do so.

Posted by: Ashley Daigneault / follow me on Twitter

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