If consumers don’t understand the Smart Grid, can utilities sell it?

I believe the Smart Grid is an eventuality. It may come with or without fanfare, it may be accepted begrudgingly or met with whole hearted resistance, it may even be greeted with open arms by some, but of this I am sure, for it succeed as utilities want, the utilities have to step up and educate their communities about what it is, what it means and what it does and doesn’t do.

I’ve talked to a number of homeowners and I’d like to offer three very different perspectives on what they think the Smart Grid is and what it means to them.

Laura, John and Family

With three kids, this affluent family runs a lot of electricity. TV, lights, video games, hot water and appliances not to mention the array of mobile devices and laptops are always being charged. When I asked them if they had heard of the Smart Grid they said they had not, when I explained what it was and what it could do and how it could even help them manage their electricity consumption to save money, they thought it sounded great that they could be “green”.  LOL

My Parents

This is a tough one. My parents are die-hard Rhode Islanders, and they’re republicans. My dad is a blue collar guys who feels the sun sets based on what Rush Limbaugh says. My mom is an MBA with a high profile job. They simply do not get that there is a problem and a need for energy conservation; my dad thinks he’ll be dead by the time it matters. Either way there is no way he is going to let the government control how much electricity he can and can’t use. No way no how, not going to happen. SIGH

Craig and Kelli

An engaged couple living in their first house, they are trying to save enough money to pay for half their wedding and honeymoon. Constantly worried about their monthly bills, the economy has taken a toll on both their incomes. They realize that spending less means doing without or cutting back. Neither had heard of the Smart Grid, but knows about the local wind power project. When I asked if they use a device that helped that understand how they could save money by reducing their electricity they loved the idea.

So of all three homeowners, none of them had heard of the Smart Grid. None of them know about the efforts and grant money National Grid has applied for to bring two-way meters to New England. If National Grid wants this deployment to succeed, they and utilities like them, have to look to driving awareness around this project. If people in neighborhoods think that this about government control, people will not cooperate and the project will fail. If homeowners are not excited about using energy management devices then they simply won’t use them. And if they don’t use them than this was for nothing.

Utilities should look at three approaches to building community support for Smart Grid roll outs:

  1. Social Media: Using Twitter and Facebook, utilities should look to top utility heavyweights like Duke and Nashville Electric Service both of whom have active grassroots campaigns designed to build followers, engage their customers and communicate everything from outages to demand response events.
  2. Town Hall Events: Just like the Presidential campaign, utilities can invite key stakeholders like government officials, industry experts and community members to question and answer events designed to educate and enthuse the public for the coming Smart Grid deployment.
  3. Demo Center: National Grid (and others) should create a demo center where the public is invited to come see what the meters will look like, how they will work and again, educate the users on how this will function in their home when a conservation event occurs or if they want to reduce their energy bills.

These are just some early suggestion, there are obviously other options such as trade shows, literature, a solid grassroots PR campaign and of course advertising, but education will be the key to public awareness and acceptance of the Smart grid and must be done at a local level not by the federal government.

Hmmm, I wonder if Caster can help National Grid?

Posted by KDL | follow me on Twitter: newscaster

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The Smart Grid in 2010: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know

One of the biggest challenges to understanding new technologies can be the lack of centralized and credible information readily available.  Such is the problem with the Smart Grid – that buzz word concept being tossed around by cleantech companies in the Bay area to policy analysts in Washington.  But what does it mean? 

Last week, I stumbled upon a report from David Leeds of GTM Research entitled “The Smart Grid in 2010: Market Segments, Applications and Industry Players.”  The report, a cool 145 pages, provides an in depth analysis of the smart grid end-to-end, identifying the key players, the overall technology, the market drivers and barriers to adoption.  Being an information junkie like I am, I downloaded it and read almost half over the weekend.  Mr. Leeds does an excellent job of providing a type of clarity not often found in research papers and I found it not only extremely readable, but interesting. 

Some highlights:

  • About $1.3 billion in venture capital was invested in the Smart Grid sector in the last 4 years and $105 million just in the last 2 quarters of 2009
  • The electric grid remains one of the last networks not transformed by information technology (IT) and is arguably one of the furthest reaching and most extensive networks in existence.
  • The three biggest challenges facing the Smart Grid are: interoperability standards, utility business models that promote energy efficiency and proper development of systems architecture that can support enterprise-wide current and future applications.
  • Without a Smart Grid, renewable technologies will remain niche at best.  The hopes for widespread adoption of renewables is non-existent without a smart grid to faciliate and integrate these variable generation sources.
  • The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) estimates that it will cost $165 billion over two decades to complete the evolution to a smart grid worldwide.

The report also details the major players in the various markets within the smart grid industry and includes our client, Control4 as a company to watch in the consumer energy management systems space.  Control4 just announced $17.3 million in funding to develop its AMI (advanced metering infrastructure) business.

If you are involved or interested in this new intelligent utility system that promises to be a challenging and revolutionizing new infrastructure, this report is a must read. 

Download here – kudos to Mr. Leeds and GTM Research for an excellent piece.

Posted by: Ashley / ashleyatcaster

Green Building Perspectives: Control4

For this week’s green building perspectives post, we spoked with Control4, a leader in affordable, IP-based home control and entertainment Control4-RGB - 300 dpisystems.  Control4 technology is at the heart of the Green Life Smart Life project, managing all the pieces of home control, entertainment and energy management. Control4 develops and delivers award-winning control software and hardware for virtually any room, home or building from anywhere at any time. Control4 is the affordable, easy to use, and easy to install solution for digital living.

1. What do you think of the Green Life Smart Life Project? What interested Control4 in the GLSL project?

Green Life Smart Life is an excellent project to reinforce Control4’s ongoing commitment to bring residential energy management for the home to the mainstream consumer industry. By bringing the latest technology and sustainability together under one roof, Green Life Smart Life showcases the Control4 system as the perfect solution to meet the needs of a LEED-H certified home while maintaining a digital, connected lifestyle. Using a home automation platform, the Control4 system will provide the homeowners with information and control through energy management, lighting, HVAC, security and entertainment to achieve a sustainable, eco-friendly smart home. Green Life Smart Life will provide the opportunity for consumers to learn about Control4’s Operating System and how it is integrated into any home to make life easier by providing a seamless platform that enables all of the home’s products and systems to work together.

2. Where does Control4 see green building going in the next 5 years?

More and more people are becoming increasingly aware of their energy usage and finding ways to reduce the carbon footprint of their family as well as their home. Now, Smart Grid initiatives are providing the ability for 2-way communication between utility providers and end users. New products like smart meters and energy monitoring software are available to better manage energy consumption by allowing users to see real time energy use, and ultimately measurable savings as this information affects their behaviors and consumption. This movement will undoubtedly send ripple-effect of green building initiatives across residential and commercial markets in the coming years.

3. How do you see your business evolving to address green building?

Control4’s automation and control systems for homes and commercial applications provide significant reductions in energy consumption without a compromise in lifestyle. We have been and will continue to be committed to this space by making greater strides in product development and strategic partnerships to benefit green building and its consumers. Going forward, Control4’s product portfolio will include more energy efficient products. Our energy efficient product additions will allow customers to not only have more on-demand information about their energy usage, but also let them take control of their usage through Control4’s system solutions. With the announcement of our new AMI (Advanced Metering Infrastructure) division (this could link to article), Control4 has recently secured funding to begin business and product development as well as partnerships with utility companies. We hope that through smart meters and residential energy management, home automation will assist with allowing homeowners to build and live more sustainably.

4. What challenges do you see your company facing in the evolution?

The largest hurdle will be how quickly the utility providers’ solutions are introduced to the market. We have seen slow, yet steady, progress in the past year and a greater investment more recently which is encouraging. It will take a number of years for the Smart Grid system to spread across the nation, but commitment and support from the utility companies is imperative.

5. Do you think green practices/manufacturing will ever dominate your business/organization?

No, it will not dominate our business per se, but it will definitely influence our product design and manufacturing processes going forward. Our energy management initiatives will become an integral part of our business model and support are already thriving home automation and entertainment platform.

6. What do you think custom CE installers need to do or prepare to do to take full advantage of the green movement?

First and foremost, custom CE installers need education. Installers interact with end users daily and we need to better educate them on the green evolution we see happening in the industry and ensure that they have the proper product offering to meet the demand of these customers. It is also important that they listen to customers that are interested in a more sustainable lifestyle and energy savings. This story is an important one and can ultimately become it a profitable one. Control4 provides solutions that fit the user’s lifestyle by offering the homeowner the convenience, and energy and cost savings of a home automation system, while providing a profitable home control platform for Control4 system integrators.