On July 13, the New America Foundation's Open Technology Initiative and the Energy POlicy Program co-hosted an event discussing Smart Grid policy. The US government has dedicated ARRA funds worth $11 billion towards modernizing the nation’s aging electricity grid by incorporating it with 2-way communication and intelligence, thus creating the Smart Grid. However, the initial excitement in the country towards the Smart Grid seems to be at a critical juncture where consumers and consumer advocacy groups are losing hope in this infrastructure of tomorrow, which is expected to free America from energy dependence, promote national security and combat climate change, as result of two recent snafus in the installation of smart meters: The Maryland Public Service Commission denying Baltimore Gas and Electric (BGE) authorization from deploying smart meters after BGE won a federal grant of $136 million for the initiative; and the case of Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) in California where PG&E is facing a consumer lawsuit for errors in installations of smart meters and wildly higher electricity and gas bills charged to consumers.
“Consumers don't just need to like it, they need to love it and embrace it and enter into a partnership with their utilities to change their behavior,” said Lisa Margonelli, Director of the Energy Policy Initiative at New America Foundation who moderated a provocative discussion between representatives of utilities, consumers, regulators, and an expert of consumer behavior and energy consumption. Panelists agreed that in order to create a smarter Grid, consumer education programs are necessary as is the requirement for new business models in the utility industry. We are at a point where public policy, market conditions and business models, consumer awareness and involvement, open standards for all components of this futuristic infrastructure, and innovation: all require more work before Smart Grid infrastructure deployment could actually be baked into our daily lives.
The discussion steered through topics like the impact of smart grid technology on the consumers, and policy recommendations to protect and empower consumers while fostering the revolutionary potential of the smart grid during this national transition. Most of the panelists echoed that government and industry enthusiasm is prevalent but informed and appropriate communication and policy are still lacking; this is beginning to pull down consumer trust in the promise of the Smart Grid. Could this be the beginning of the end of a great idea?