Consumers are the key to successful Smart Grid implementations

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By Bill Ash, strategic technology program director, IEEE Standards Association

Bill AshI’d like to call my colleagues’ attention to the recent publication of a new IEEE Standard Association report, “IEEE Global Consumer Socialization of Smart Grid.”

The title alone should serve as a reminder that no matter how much work we do on developing technology and forecasting its commercialization – as we’ve done recently with our IEEE Smart Grid research Vision series on Smart Grid – the consumer is both the chief sponsor and beneficiary of most of our technology-related work. We must keep our focus on the end user as we pursue technology in order to fulfill the IEEE mission of fostering “technological innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity.”

By now, most of you are familiar with the value propositions associated with Smart Grid. As we enable consumers to have greater control over their energy consumption through a variety of strategies, technologies and behaviors, they in turn will help utilities in managing the sustainable and reliable provision of electricity.

There’s a catch. Though consumer awareness and knowledge of Smart Grid has improved significantly over the past few years – a fact we’ve documented in the report through a survey of consumers in six influential countries – we have a long way to go. As we’re in the early stages of implementing Smart Grid-related technologies and capturing their value, we must make a parallel effort to educate and engage consumers.

Fortunately, the new report provides the means to understand the range of consumer knowledge of and sentiment towards Smart Grid. It identifies a handful of common motivations among consumers in order to segment them for effective outreach. For instance, some consumers wish to save money, others will pay a premium for environment benefits and yet others are early adopters of technology. Understanding consumer attitudes, perceptions and motivations will allow us to develop more effective messaging to grow their knowledge and eventual participation in Smart Grid.

The report also details the challenges faced by utilities, government and industry stakeholders in understanding consumer behavior and educating them on Smart Grid. It suggests action items that can be undertaken in order to create large-scale awareness and understanding among consumers. This will be a generational effort, and the report provides a basis for optimism. Eighty-seven percent of the respondents in the report’s consumer survey were 25-34 years-old. It might not surprise you that consumers in that age bracket generally are open to new ideas and technology. And they display a proclivity for spreading their awareness among their peers and to an even younger generation.

The report’s findings are firmly rooted in reality. We’ve documented lessons learned in China, India, Japan, South Korea, Germany and the United States from recent and current Smart Grid implementations. Those lessons are based on factors such as Smart Grid adoption levels in each country, the level of consumer socialization and awareness, initiatives taken to mitigate consumer concerns and the impact of consumer socialization on Smart Grid rollouts. The report homes in on the implementation of the four technologies most relevant to consumers: advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), distribution automation, renewable energy and cyber security.

Perhaps most importantly, the report spells out two crucial “how-to” subjects. One discusses the “consumer socialization cycle,” a step-by-step process aimed at influencing consumers, spreading awareness among them and creating an in-depth understanding of Smart Grid concepts in terms consumers are likely to understand. The other addresses actions that stakeholders can take to reach out to consumers in an impactful and positive way and further effective adoption of Smart Grid technologies and practices. It spells out how influence, awareness and understanding can lead to action.

We’ve all heard about how consumers will benefit from Smart Grid, and it’s true. But years will pass before Smart Grid technologies are fully integrated for improved efficiencies and better reliability. It’ll be years, as well, before consumers have full access to affordable home energy management systems, smart appliances, smart homes and applications to run those technologies become available for smartphones, tablets and the like. Those technologies and apps are beginning to appear, but widespread adoption will take time.

Thus we have designed the new report as a practical guide to what works in the effort to bring consumers along on this great energy challenge. If we begin effective outreach to consumers now, they’ll be willing partners in the needed investments and desired outcomes encompassed by Smart Grid. Let’s get the word out and move the proverbial needle.

Read Press Release on Smart Grid Research Documents

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